The Genesis of Nick Temple File no. 6, The Heidelberg Gap

The process of starting to write another book is never the same. Last night and this morning I was mentally paging through the typical spy novel plots and titles just for the hell of it. None of the results were particularly surprising. Plots included a rogue nation/group stealing a nuclear device; a weak nation trying to get strong through the development of a formula for synthetic oil or gasoline; destabilization of a major economy with stolen plates for counterfeiting or some other method; defection of an important scientist or politician to [insert good guy country here]; and so on. The titles were easy to group: those with time limits in them like Seven Days of the Condor; those with a technical word in them like The Parallax View; those with a recognizable “spy place” in them like Moscow, or Langley; those with paperwork in them like the Ipcress File; and so on.

The famous Schloss Heidelberg
Schloss Heidelberg 1986

Then I started thinking about all of the above in the context of a new Nick Temple File. The first location I hit on was Heidelberg. The last trip that Kerry and I took in Germany before getting out of the Army and returning to the U.S. was to Heidelberg. The University of Maryland’s European Division was holding its 1986 commencement exercises in Heidelberg at the end of May, and since I was graduating, I had an excellent reason for leaving Berlin for 4 days. My 1st Sergeant agreed, and I wasn’t even required to take leave for the trip. Well, I skipped the ceremony, and Kerry and I spent three beautiful spring days in as charming a town as you’ll find. We took a day trip on the local river, the Neckar; we spent plenty of time roaming around the famous Heidelberg Castle; we spent an afternoon watching a rowing regatta on the river; and we generally walked just about every nook and cranny of the old part of the city. It was a fine punctuation mark on our time in Germany.

So, with Heidelberg in mind, I started hunting around for a plot. Nick Temple File no. 5 ends in December of 1966, in the unlikely event you haven’t already read it! So, number six needs to start sometime after that. Then there’s the problem of getting Nick Temple to Heidelberg. Why would he be there? Okay, how about as a visiting lecturer at Heidelberg University on the issue of Western European Security Services? That makes some sense. But what’s going to happen while Nick is there that makes it worthy of a full Nick Temple File? That’s when I started trying to tie Nick’s action in Heidelberg, whatever it might end up being, to an important event from around 1967 or 1968. Then it hit me! The Prague Spring of 1968.

To put down what the Soviets saw as a dangerous liberalization trend, they, along with a few other Warsaw Pact nations invaded Czechoslovakia with nearly half a million troops and put the kibosh on the Prague Spring in August of 1968. Okay, so now you’ve got half a million Warsaw Pact troops and about 5,000 tanks less than 200 kilometers from the West German border at the same time the U.S. has heavy troop commitments in Vietnam and no stomach for another fight. Well, the next step was easy. Let’s imagine the Soviets were really eyeing an invasion of West Germany when they put all those troops in Czechoslovakia. And now let’s tie Nick in from his posting at the university.

As with any important military operation, the Soviet invasion of West Germany would have required intense and extensive advance work. In this case, it’s not a stretch to imagine the Soviets activating sleeper cells in West Germany to, at a minimum, identify, secure, and defend key pieces of infrastructure necessary for the invasion’s success. And Heidelberg, on the Neckar River, near the Rhine, and Southwest of the Fulda Gap is just the place for two or three or more such sleeper cells whose operational success would be absolutely critical to even contemplating such an invasion.

Okay, now I’ve got a location, I’ve got Nick Temple at the location, I’ve got a historic event driving the plot at that location, and I’ve got a challenge for Nick that’s central to the success or failure of a serious and plausible expansion of the historic event! In short, I’ve got a Nick Temple File, and it’s not even 24 hours after I started thinking about it.

Now all I have to do is write it! Stay tuned, because that part of the process is already under way.