A GLASGOW office block, much like any other, and very late at night. The fourth floor, home to the branch office of an Edinburgh newspaper, is deserted, save for a solitary figure, a reporter in his late twenties, seated at a typewriter. He types at a fair speed, but what he is writing is not for the following day’s edition. It is, in fact, a novel. His third novel, moreover.

This was Peter May in the late seventies, in the act of creating a book that would be published in 1981 as Hidden Faces. He had already achieved some success through his writing: he had, after all, co-created The Standard, a 13-part BBC Network drama series set in a newspaper office.

Hidden Faces is set for the most part in Brussels, in the winter of 1979. A charismatic British government minister and a Scottish journalist, a EEC correspondent, have been found shot dead in the former’s home. The only witness is the journalist’s autistic daughter, whose startling talents enable her to make a vivid drawing of the scene, including the departing killer, whose face is devoid of detail. Cue the intervention of Neil Bannerman: colleague to the dead journalist, a “troublesome bastard” to his editor, and an experienced investigative journalist intent on sniffing out corruption in Brussels.

It’s a gripping read. And now, almost 40 years after its publication, Hidden Faces is being republished under the title May himself preferred at the time: The Man With No Face. The book’s topicality and setting prompted in May’s editor an idea that the book see the light of day again, and the re-issue has quickly entered the book charts.

Since the original publication, May has enjoyed prolonged, awards-laden success as a writer. His TV credits include not just The Standard but also the Gaelic drama, Machair, which he produced and co-created. He wrote and co-created the hit 1982 RAF drama series, Squadron, and was scriptwriter, story editor and script editor on Take the High Road. His novels have included the Lewis trilogy - The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen - and several standalone thrillers. He wrote the Enzo Files series, and the China Thrillers series; it is hoped that a TV series based on the latter may be in the pipeline

“I hadn’t re-read it since it was published,” May, now 67, says of The Man With No Face. “I’ve written 20-odd books since then. I hadn’t re-read it until my editor phoned me up and said, ‘I think this is a brilliant story and it’s so topical because the Brussels line, and the E.U.’ I went back to it with a fair amount of trepidation, because 40 years is a long time. I was reasonably pleasantly surprised. The only thing I was unhappy about was the dialogue. I’ve worked in telly for 17 years - writing, editing and so on - and you learn a lot about dialogue-writing.” He did “a little bit of polishing” on the dialogue, but otherwise the original words have remained untouched.

The books to look out for in 2019

The hitman, Kale, a somewhat tortured and haunted figure, comes across as a character out of the works of Graham Greene. “Greene”, says May, “was very much my influence at the time. I read all his books.”

The murder of a real-life French MP, Prince Jean de Broglie, on a Paris street in 1976, “was the thing that sparked off the idea of the book. I read an in-depth piece about that murder, and there clearly was a big cover-up going on. At the end of the day, nobody knows quite what it was all about, but a lot of the players in that little drama disappeared mysteriously, or were killed in car accidents.

“I read it as a young journalist, and I can remember thinking, this is an interesting story: let’s take the notion of political assassination and corruption and cover-up and set it in Brussels, because that’s the new beating heart of Europe. I didn’t know anything about Brussels, but I went out there. I got cheap rail fares from Glasgow to London and then there was a long trek to Brussels. It took me about 15 hours in all. I used part of it for Kale’s journey to Brussels, on the ferry and on the train.”

Once in Brussels he gained access to Berlaymont, the EU’s headquarters, and was able to study how politicians and correspondents worked.

"One of the things that took me by surprise when I read [the book] was how cynical I was back then", May adds with a laugh. "There's a lot of cynicism in there. I was young; I was only about 26, 27 at the time, but I must have been in the game long enough to develop a cynical outer shell."

One of the book’s characters makes a sour observation about the European institutions: the Commission, in his opinion, is a slow-moving machine, intent on self-perpetuation; the Council of Ministers study incomprehensible reports devised by civil servants; the European Parliament is impotent, even after direct elections.

Many share this opinion today, but May makes it clear now that “it wasn’t specifically my view: it was the widely-held view, the received wisdom, at the time.... Personally, I’m very pro-Europe. I mean, I’ve lived in France for nearly 20 years. I do most of my writing in Spain. So I’m a real beneficiary of the notion of freedom of travel, freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU. I also spent a long time up in the Hebrides - I saw how European money transformed the infrastructure up there, and that’s money that never would have come from Westminster.”

How has he viewed the endless Brexit drama that has been unfolding over here? He shakes his heads, then laughs in exasperation. “In common, I’m sure, with the vast bulk of the population, I’m sick to the back teeth of it,” he says [he’s speaking 24 hours before Theresa May lost the Brexit vote in the Commons by a majority of 230 votes, thus ensuring that the drama will continue for a while yet]. “It’s extraordinary that the whole process of government has ground to a halt. Nothing is happening. You think: five million people in work, living in poverty. You look at the stats, at Britain’s place in Europe ...” He cites the highest rates of child mortality, of adult illiteracy, of teenage pregnancy, amongst other examples. “As somebody who has benefited from France’s equivalent of the NHS, I can say it functions an awful

lot better than the health service here. That’s not to decry the people who work in it. but the organisation and the funding of it just aren’t working, are they?”

The books to look out for in 2019

The conversation shifts to the astounding speed with which technology has changed our lives. Journalists like Bannerman work so much differently today. “It was one of the things that struck me most forcibly when I re-read the book,” May says. “I’d forgotten; there were no computers, no internet, no mobile phones. Bannerman has to use a public phone box. At one point he asks a man in Switzerland to do a company search for him. Today you could do that in two minutes on the internet; back then, it involved a phone call, and someone going to a building and getting files and making notes. All of that takes time.

“The thing that struck me was that information moved so much slowly then, and that that subconsciously dictated the pace of the plot. The story could not have moved any faster than the lack of technology allowed for. Whereas if you took the technology we have now and transplanted it into that time, the story’s structure would have changed. It would have to. When I write stuff now, technology is just the air you breathe, so it’s a natural part of the process, but it in a sense it’s subliminally dictating the pace of the story. It is,” he adds, with the insight of a highly experienced author, “fascinating.”

**The Man With No Face (riverrun hardback, £18.99). petermay.co.uk

Peter May: Life and Loves

Best advice ever received: To write about what I know. I ignored it for the first ten years in which I was trying to write, and sell, books; I had hifalutin ideas of what I’m going to write about. But the first book that I had published was about a journalist. I was a journalist, I knew journalism. I should have taken the advice sooner.

Character traits: Best: Probably my ability to create a schedule and work to it.

And worst: I have very little patience for things these days. I lose it very quickly and very easily.

Last book read: I’m a Stephen King fan, he writes really well, but I didn’t enjoy his last one, The Outsider, very much. Prior to that I read Deaf-Blind Reality, by Scott M.Stoffel, for research. It has personal testimonies by deaf-blind people. It was a riveting, painful and excoriating read.

Last film watched: Red Sparrow, with Jennifer Lawrence. I watched it in a hotel room in London the other night.

Ideal dinner-party guests: People who make me laugh - Dorothy Parker. Billy Connolly. And probably someone whose writing I really admire - Ernest Hemingway.