lure of historic catastrophe hit when I was eight. On the movie screen a small American
town celebrated the return of victorious soldiers from World War I. How exciting it must’ve been to live during real
wartime, I thought.
at that tender age I knew America was engaged in a dangerous cold war with a vicious enemy, the
Soviet Union. This massive Euro-Asian power—encompassing the former Russian empire
plus pieces of the Hapsburg monarchy—threatened my freedom. If the US-USSR stalemate
heated up, there would be drama and chances for glory ahead.
|Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said the USSR would “bury” the West.|
did I know about war? (In my own way, I must have been as naïve as those
deluded British soldiers in August 1914 who marched off to fight the Hun in
what became World War I, feeling sure they’d be home by Christmas.)
forward nine years. The Cuban missile crisis pushed the entire world to the
brink of Armageddon. Only six hours before Khrushchev blinked—promising to
withdraw his missiles from Cuba—I took my SAT exams. What the heck, I thought. If everyone faced nuclear annihilation,
then I had little at stake and wouldn’t take my college entrance exams so seriously.
decades later, those memories flicker in my head while I watch events in Ukraine
on my television screen. As I write this, Russia has troops in the Crimean
region of Ukraine and even more troops and a thousand tanks ready to cross the
border. Pro-Western riots in Kiev have resulted in deaths and have been
answered by pro-Russian protests, perhaps Kremlin-instigated. Centuries of ethnic
bloodshed in this region lie behind these events.
President Vladimir Putin says “extraordinary” circumstances allow him to send
troops into Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians there. Meantime Ukrainian Prime
Minister Arseny Yatseniuk says Russia has “invaded” his country and places his
troops on high alert.
pundits debate what the West can do. One points to a meaningful statement that
presages these events, made by Putin a year ago. The Russian leader said the
collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst geopolitical event of the entire
twentieth century. Yes, really! The foreign affairs analyst confidently
predicts a resurgent Russia under the crafty hands of Putin, whose first name is
the same as Lenin’s, who built the communist menace in the first place. Oh, the
portents are bad indeed.
new threat to the world’s balance of power is a long way from playing out. Who
knows where events will lead next? What will China do? North Korea? This may be
high drama, but it is not entertainment. This is not fun. All these nations
have nuclear weaponry. Are we in fact entering a new version of the old Cold
War, or will things suddenly turn hot? Red
annihilation as a backdrop.
movies, serial killers’ tales and the like? As a writer who kills fictive
people for a living, I ponder this quite a lot.
can act valiantly in ruinous times, overcome their fears, and emerge on
top. When we read novels set during past wars,
we can get scared but we’ll know how things turn out. The Nazis always lose, even if
a few survive to plot another day.
fact pretty hot. An intercontinental ballistic missile was placed a few miles
from my hometown in Kansas when I was in grade school. That excited me, rather
than terrifying me. Serious tomes were written about “thinking the
unthinkable.” Yet, to me, the unthinkable was preposterous. I assumed that mutually
assured nuclear destruction would work as a deterrent. Surely rationality would
prevail. Anything else would be unreal. In a word, fiction.
to being mesmerized by John le Carré’s twisted spy stories. Smiley, his British
master spy, was always at pains not to let the ends justify any means. His adversary
on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Soviet master spy Karla, seemed to lack
all scruples and toyed with him, playing a vicious cat-and-mouse game. Smiley’s
bed-hopping wife Anne even got ensnared.
mysteries, it was natural to turn to my favorites as models. For two years I
drowned myself in mysteries set during World Wars One and Two and the Cold War.
There were so many excellent ones—too many, actually. Of all the major wars of
last century, only the wars in Korea and Vietnam weren’t “taken,” weren’t
overrun with thrillers. Vietnam offered a dangerous yet fairly empty gap that
needed filling…and I concluded I’d do the filling.
Russian history. Obviously the Cold War fascinated me. These days, in our
a-historic times, it’s important to recall why the United States got mired down
in fighting a land war in Asia in the first place. The domino theory supplied
the reason. If South Vietnam fell to the communists pushing down from North Vietnam,
then that domino would fall and knock down another Asian country and another
until they all fell into communist hands.
my debut mystery is set among the draft resister community in Toronto, Canada,
ca. 1968. I enjoy writing about historical turmoil that lends itself to personal
drama, intrigue, and murder; I can control the world that I build on the page.
That is comforting.
wait for the newscasters to tell me that the crisis in Ukraine is escalating,
waning, or mutating in some as yet unforeseen fashion. I watch, mesmerized, waiting
for comfort to come, even if it is only temporary. Only until the next geopolitical
horror fills my screen, or screeches from the headlines of the New York Times. Sadder and wiser than in
my youth, I no longer trust the nuclear deterrent to work.
relations executive who lives in Texas
|Kay & house bunny Dusty|
with her husband, five house rabbits,
and spaniel Wills. A fan of historical mysteries, she wants to do for the 1960s
what novelist Alan Furst does for Europe in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to
power–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age.