Man on Fire (novel)

Man on Fire  
Cover of recent film tie-in edition
Cover of recent film tie-in edition
Author(s) Philip Nicholson,
writing as A. J. Quinnell
Country United States
Language English
Series Creasy
Genre(s) Thriller
Publisher William Morrow
Publication date September 1980
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 284 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-688-03743-7 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number 6305089
Dewey Decimal 813/.54
LC Classification PS3567.U36 M3
Followed by The Perfect Kill

Man on Fire is a 1981 thriller novel by the English novelist Philip Nicholson, writing as A. J. Quinnell. The plot features his popular character Creasy, an American-born former member of the French Foreign Legion, in his first appearance.



In Italy, wealthy families often hire bodyguards to protect family members from the threat of kidnapping. When Rika Balletto urges her husband Ettore, a wealthy textiles producer living in Milan, to hire a bodyguard for their daughter Pinta, he is doubtful but agrees. After some searching, he finally settles for an American named Creasy.

Creasy, once purposeful and lethal, has become a burnt-out alcoholic. To keep him occupied, his companion Guido suggests that Creasy should get a job, and offers him to set him up as a bodyguard; thus he is being hired by the Ballettos, where he meets his charge, Pinta.

Creasy barely tolerates the precocious child and her pestering questions about him and his life. But slowly, she chips away at his seemingly impenetrable exterior, his defenses drop, and he opens up to her. They become friends and he replaces her parents in their absences, giving her advice, guidance and help with her competition running; he is even spurred to give up his drinking and return to his former physical prowess. But Creasy's life is shattered when Pinta is kidnapped by the Mafia, despite his efforts to protect her.

Creasy is wounded during the kidnapping, and as he lies in a hospital bed Guido keeps him informed of the goings on. Soon enough, Guido returns with the news that the exchange went bad, and Pinta was found dead in a car, suffocated on her own vomit. She had also been raped by her captors.

Out of hospital, Creasy returns to Guido's pensione, and outlines his plans for revenge against the men who took away the girl who convinced him it was all right to live again; anyone who was involved, or profited from it, all the way to the top of the Mafia. Told by Guido he can stay with in-laws on the island of Gozo in Malta, Creasy accepts the offer, in order to train for his new mission.

While on Gozo, Creasy trains for several months, getting into shape and re-familiarizing himself with weaponry. But, to his surprise, he also discovers he has another reason to live after his suicidal mission against the Mafia; he finds himself accepted by and admiring the Gozitans, and falls in love with Nadia, the daughter of his host.

Soon enough, he is fit and leaves for Marseilles where he stocks up on supplies, weapons and ammunition; from there he travels back to Italy, and then the war between Creasy and the Mafia begins. From low-level enforcers to the capos in Milan and Rome, and all the way to the head Don in Sicily, Creasy cuts through their organization, murdering anyone who had something even remotely to do with Pinta's kidnapping. After Creasy reveals to Rika that Ettore allowed her to be kidnapped for the insurance money, Ettore commits suicide. Finally, after killing the Don, a severely wounded Creasy is taken to hospital, but pronounced dead; a funeral is held and Creasy is thought to be gone.

But, unknown to all, Creasy was in fact alive, and makes it back to Gozo where he is reunited with Nadia.


  • Creasy - The main character. A. J. Quinnell based Creasy on several people he knew from Africa and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] He imagined that Creasy would look like Robert Mitchum.[2]
  • Ettore Balletto - The husband of the Balletto family and the owner of Balletto Mills, one of Italy's largest producers of knitted silk fabric. He arranged a kidnapping of Pita in order to commit an insurance scam; he set up an insurance policy at Lloyd's of London for two billion lire. After Creasy confronts him and exposes him to Rika, Ettore commits suicide in his eighth floor office.
  • Rika Balletto - The wife of the Balletto family.
  • Pinta Balletto - The child of the Balletto family
  • Guido Arrellio - Creasy's friend and the owner of the Pensione Splendide in Naples
  • Maria - The cook at the Balletto house
  • Deluca (Signora Deluca) - Pinta's schoolteacher
  • Giorgio Rabbia - One of Pinta's kidnappers, he works as the driver in the kidnapping.
  • Giacomo Sandri - One of Pinta's kidnappers; he is Fossella's sister's son.[3] He shoots Creasy during the kidnapping.
  • Cremasco and Dorigo - Two of Pinta's kidnappers. During the kidnapping, Creasy kills them before being wounded out of commission.
  • Dino Fossella - Fossella, one of the two main Milan-based mafia bosses of Cantarella's organisation, planned Pinta's kidnapping. Creasy kills him by placing a bomb in his rectum and detonating it.
  • Abrata - Abrata, one of the two main Milan-based mafia bosses of Cantarella's organisation,
  • Joey Schembri - The younger brother of Julia, Guido's wife; Julia died in a drunk driving accident before the start of the story
  • Paul Schembri - Julia, Nadia, and Joey's father, a farmer in Gozo
  • Laura Schembri - Paul's wife and the mother of Julia, Nadia, and Joey
  • Nadia Schembri - Julia's sister, Nadia becomes Creasy's girlfriend. Creasy impregnates Nadia, and Creasy returns to live with Nadia in Gozo
  • Vico Mansutti - The lawyer for the Balletto family, Vico serves as a go-between in Pinta's kidnapping scheme, between Ettore and the mafia. Creasy wires a plastique to his car, so Vico dies when he starts his car
  • Gina Mansutti - Vico's wife
  • Mario Satta - A member of the Carabinieri, Satta tracks Creasy's movements
  • Massimo Bellu - Satta's assistant
  • Elio - Elio is Guido's younger brother
  • Felicia - Felicia is Elio's wife
  • Pietro - An ex-thief who works as an employee at Guido's pensione.
  • Cantarella - The boss of the entire mafia organization, who is based out of Palermo, Sicily
  • Floriano Conti - A mafia boss in Rome and a member of Cantarella's organisation. Creasy uses an anti-tank missile to kill Conti.
  • "Wally" Wighman - An Australian who Creasy meets in Rome
  • "Paddy" Collins - An Australian who Creasy meets in Rome
  • Franco Masi - An owner of a farmhouse next to Villa Colacci, Cantarella's stronghold. Cantarella and the previous occupants served as Masi's benefactor; after Cantarella ordered the destruction of Masi's property, Masi gained a grudge against Cantarella.
  • Cesare Gravelli - One of Cantarella's main advisors
  • Maurizio Dicandia - One of Cantarella's main advisors
  • Amelia Zanbon - Sandri's 15-year old companion


Two real-life incidents shaped A. J. Quinnell's development of the book. In the first, after the eldest son of a rich Singaporean was kidnapped by Triads for ransom money, the man refused to pay the ransom, leading to the death of his son; the refusal meant that the man's other children would not become targets. The second was the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the son of Paul Getty, in Rome.[4]

On a previous occasion, A. J. Quinnell had helped save the life of an Italian man suffering a medical emergency on an airliner flight between Tokyo and Hong Kong. When he began doing research for the book, he contacted the man's family. The family responded by introducing anti-mafia investigators, lawyers, and mafia members to Quinnell. The contacts eagerly helped Creasy and asked to be named in the book.[2]

On the island of Gozo, Quinnell often frequented a Maltese bar called "Gleneagles." Several patrons at the bar, many of whom had poor English comprehension, agreed to be characters in the book.[2]


Quinnell wrote four more novels featuring Creasy.

  • The Perfect Kill (1992)
  • The Blue Ring (1993)
  • Black Horn (1994)
  • Message From Hell (1996)


After the book's publication in 1981, Man on Fire became a best seller. By 2005 Man on Fire sold over eight million paperback copies and received many translations. Many of the book's most devoted fans come from Japan. The Times of Malta obituary of A. J. Quinnell stated that the Japanese liked Creasy's "samurai-style dedication".[2] Japanese people see Creasy as a "ronin," a disgraced former samurai, who tries to atone for his deeds with charitable acts.[4] Because of the Japanese popularity of the book, Malta received its first significant wave of Japanese tourism. As of 2005, due to the popularity of Quinnell's books, an early edition of Man on Fire had a price tag of £63.[2]


There were two film adaptations made from this novel, one in 1987 and another more recently in 2004. Both took liberties with the novel's story and plot.

In the 2004 film John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic ex-United States Special Operations soldier traveling to Mexico to visit his friend Rayburn. He subsequently lands a job on the advice of Rayburn as a bodyguard for an affluent Mexican automaker named Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) guarding his Mexican-American daughter Lupita "Pita" Ramos (Dakota Fanning). Just like the Creasy in the novel, Creasy in the 2004 film is cold and distant from Pita but quickly warms up to her. She is eventually kidnapped by Mexican Police Officers belonging to a criminal organization called "La Hermandad" who are involved in much of the kidnapping conspiracy transpiring in Mexico. Believing Pita to be dead as the result of a botched ransom drop, Creasy exacts revenge on everyone involved with surgical precision. Eventually he discovers that Pita was in fact kept alive and agrees to exchange himself for her so she can be returned to her mother Lisa (Radha Mitchell). Creasy goes through with the exchange, but is suffering from prior gunshot wounds and dies shortly after giving himself over to enemy hands, but not before ensuring Pita's safe return to her mother.


  1. ^ Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 220. Retrieved on 30 March 2011. ISBN 9042029390, 9789042029392.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Social and Personal Obituaries." Times of Malta. Thursday 14 July 2005. Retrieved on 28 March 2011.
  3. ^ Quinell, A.J. Man on Fire. 145.
  4. ^ a b Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 221. Retrieved on 30 March 2011. ISBN 9042029390, 9789042029392.

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