I love doing research — if nothing else, it helps me feel less crazy, because there’s so many stories out there almost as wild as some of the weird stuff floating around in my head. While digging for historic crumbs to fill out Lanois’ backstory, I came across French mercenary Bob Denard and wondered why I try so hard to make things up.

From the NY Times article that ran when Denard died in 2007:


Born in Bordeaux on April 7, 1929, as Gilbert Bourgeaud, he joined the French Navy in his late teens and was sent to Vietnam, then French Indochina, where France was struggling to hold on to its Indochinese colonies. In 1952, he joined the French police in Morocco, and in 1956 was accused of involvement in a plot to kill France’s prime minister, Pierre Mendès-France. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

After his release, he worked briefly as a salesman, but ever restless, he signed up in 1961 to train forces involved in the failed effort by the province of Katanga to secede from the government of Congo, which had just gained its independence from Belgium. He next fought in Yemen, where he claimed to have worked closely with British intelligence.

He was wounded in battle and limped for the rest of his life. Soon afterward, he backed Biafra’s unsuccessful war to break away from Nigeria and, in the 1970s and early 1980s, he was active in Benin, Chad and Angola (where he said he had collaborated with the United States Central Intelligence Agency).

But he left his biggest mark in Comoros, starting in 1975, when he organized a coup d’état against President Ahmed Abdallah Abderemane. Three years later, he reinstated Mr. Abdallah and became the country’s de facto leader as head of the presidential guard.