Thursday, May 25, 2023

An Interview With Bill Rapp, Author of A Turkish Triangle

 Bill Rapp holds degrees from Notre Dame (B.A.), The University of Toronto (M.A.) and Vanderbilt (Ph. D.) and began his professional life teaching European History at Iowa State University. His 35 years U. S. Government service has taken him around the world, including to Berlin as the Wall fell.  Bill Rapp’s books include the mystery novels Angel in Black, A Pale RainBurning Altars, Berlin Breakdown, Tears of Innocence, and The Hapsburg Variation.


Bill is a member of The Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and The International Association of Crime Writers.


One Bite at a Time: Hi, Bill. Welcome to the blog. We’ve been friends for quite a while now thanks to the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, so it’s great to get you here. Your new book (released May 9 from Coffeetown Press) is A Turkish Triangle. What’s the quick description?


Bill Rapp: Hi, Dana, and first of all, thanks for inviting me to participate in your blog.  We have known each other for a while, and it sounds like you have a fascinating venue here.  As for A Turkish Triangle, this adventure finds Karl Baier in Turkey during the height of the Cuban missile crisis.  He’s been sent there to investigate the sudden deaths of three Soviet assets, whom the Agency has been running in Turkey.  While looking into the deaths, Baier comes to realize that the passing of the three assets is not the end of the story, something most would assume to be the case.  The Soviets discovered their betrayal and—as was often the case with the Soviets—the three men were eliminated.  Baier realizes that the story doesn’t end there, that this is actually a part of a longer and more ambitious scheme that goes well beyond the loss of three agents.  In fact, it is part of a broader scheme involving a number of Soviets, Turks, and even some Americans that could undermine not only the US position on the Cuban missiles, but also the US position in the Middle East and Europe.


OBAAT: Karl Baier has more going on than just being a CIA agent. What’s his backstory?

BR: Karl Baier comes from a family of German-Americans, his parents having fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  They were active in the Social Democratic Party in Germany, something that landed many in the concentration camps with a host of others.  Baier has retained his sense of a strong German heritage, but he is also fully committed to the United States and its postwar role in the world.  That’s what brought him to the CIA.  Like many educated Americans, his focus overseas has been on Europe—and Germany, of course—but he is also learning that he has to become familiar with a world and his nation’s responsibilities well beyond the good old world of the European continent.  It is the front line in the Cold War, but plenty of other challenges are emerging.


OBAAT: This is going to sound odd, but as a child of the Cold War, I think of it as the golden age of espionage. You and I are about the same age, which means the events you write of generally took place when we were too young to pay much notice to such things. What attracts you to this period and these stories?

BR: Ah, this is where my training in and love for history comes in.  Finding the settings for these novels in some of the high points of the Cold War allows me to combine two of my passions—history and intelligence—into a single series.  But beyond that it is also a time of growth and learning for the United States and the CIA.  We had to learn and grow into our new responsibilities and leadership as a nation, but also as an agency, an evolution that was not without its share of mistakes.  Unfortunately.


OBAAT: How much of what’s in A Turkish Triangle – all your books, for that matter - is drawn from actual events?

BR: Well, the three deaths is certainly fictional.  But the Cuban missile crisis is not, of course.  And I tried to tie the events in the story to developments in that crisis, especially near the end when Baier and a KGB officer discuss the near miss at a nuclear war.  That really happened.  The other aspect that one could say is drawn from actual evets is the manner and outlook of Baier and many of his colleagues.  I try to give an authenticity to these stories based on what I perceived to be an Agency culture, its standards and challenges, and the strong espirit d’corps.  (I think my French is correct there.)


OBAAT: Who are your major influences as a writer?

BR: That’s actually a pretty long list, and it probably looks pretty eclectic to most.  I guess you could start with Henry James and Joseph Conrad, then move on to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway.  More recently, I would point to Eric Ambler, Charles McCarry, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.  They all brought something unique and gifted to their prose and storytelling, which I found essential when searching for my own voice.


OBAAT: You started out writing private eye fiction, a genre near and dear to my heart. What appeals to you about PI stories?

BR: You know, I started reading detective fiction when I was in grad school and looking for something to read other than history books.  That’s when I discovered Chandler and MacDonald.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve recommended Chandler’s “The Simple Art of Murder” or passages from MacDonald’s Lew Archer series to an aspiring writer.  I think that genre, when it reaches those heights is as literary as any other “serious” fiction.  At times, more so.  Eventually, I hope to get back to my Bill Habermann series, especially now that I’m back home in the Chicago area, where he worked.


OBAAT: What are you working on now?

BR: I figured it was about time for Karl Baier to do his tour in Vietnam.  In 1963/64 when I sent him there, it was our biggest deployment, at least until Iraq.  He would have been expected to do his part.  The challenge, of course, is to find a way to introduce some plausible skepticism into his mission without the benefit of hindsight that I have as an author.  But he will definitely sour on where US policy is going as we “Americanized” that war.  A major benefit I have, though, is that some of the academic studies on that war point to the skeptical and accurate CIA reporting and analysis about our predicament and the future prospects (or lack thereof) for our increasingly myopic and militarized course.  That gives me more to play with.

No comments: