Politics and the Cold War Espionage Thriller

The Death Zone of the Berlin Wall – Potsdamer Platz viewed from West Berlin

It’s an understatement to say that American political institutions are being challenged in ways the likes of which the living haven’t seen. Times are tough, uncertain, and getting more so. In addition to all of our other domestic conflicts, we are struggling with the physical and psychological effects of a deadly, once-in-a-lifetime, global emergency. The numbers of dead are staggering, and we have little idea what those who have managed to survive will be facing for the rest of their lives. And our reaction to that emergency seems to vacillate wildly depending at least in part on whose voice is the loudest, the most obstreperous from one day to the next. Naturally, during such a brutally confusing time, many people turn to books as one form of entertainment that can provide a few moments away from the relentless daily noise. That’s where the Nick Temple Files come in.

When I started writing the Nick Temple Files, they were nearly apolitical. The Cold War provided a solid, easily identifiable milieu for the struggle between good and evil, or to put it even more plainly, between the good guys and the bad guys. The characters were nearly caricatures, black and white and no gray. And with the exception of some basic Cold War facts, the first two books in the series did not really rely on the major political issues of the years in which they took place.

For some reason, that started to change in the third book in the series, Silent Vector. In that book I used one of the most important geopolitical conflicts of the 1960s, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the framework for an alternative history at the heart of the story. In Nick Temple File no. 4, The Flemish Coil, America’s expanding commitment to the war in Southeast Asia furnished the motivation for an act of treason by a couple of U.S. Army colonels. In both of those books, the “enemy” became more complex, more nuanced than those on the other side of the Iron Curtain had been in the first two Nick Temple Files. I started portraying some of the men and women on both sides less as caricatures and more as people trying to succeed within the reality of their country’s system. And in The Flemish Coil, I interjected a degree of political cynicism on the American side that further blurred the black/white dichotomy of the earlier books.

My current effort, a work-in-progress entitled The Heidelberg Gap, makes use of a factual Cold War political crisis to drive the action. In this book, that crisis is the Prague Spring and the Soviet Union’s reaction to it. It’s in part an alternative history that suggests the Soviets used their suppression of the liberal uprising in Czechoslovakia as a cover for larger territorial ambitions.

What I haven’t done in any of the six Nick Temple books is attempt to shoehorn today’s political climate into a story rooted in a decidedly different past. None of the books stands as a metaphor for what we’re currently experiencing. And that’s deliberate. As noted above, a book can provide some temporary escape from the troubles of the day. My aim has been to write such a book each time I pen a Nick Temple File. I try to create a self-contained world that isn’t driving the reader to examine the current state of affairs here and abroad under the guise of a story which on its surface is about our world 50 or more years ago. If I’ve succeeded, then the reader gets a break, a few hours when the existential threats of today are set aside. And I imagine that there are more than a few of us who could use such a break.