My guest today is author William S. Shepard whom I first interviewed on the Muriel Reeves Mysteries earlier this year. Prize winning mystery writer, William is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the
, during which he
served in United States , Singapore Saigon, , Budapest and Athens , in addition to
five Bordeaux tours of duty. Washington
His books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. He evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in
, in Vintage
Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The
On The Danube, mines his knowledge of Bordeaux and the 1956
Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler, his main character, is just
married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of Hungary is interrupted by
murders. The most recent of the series, The Saladin Affair, has Cutler
transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author, Cutler
arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to
assassinate the Secretary of State. France
Anne - Welcome, William. Tell us about Vintage Murder.
William - Vintage Murder is set in
, Washington and Bordeaux . It pits a young
American diplomat, Robbie Cutler, against a vicious terrorist group, which is
blackmailing the great wine estates of the region. The novel begins at a dinner
to celebrate the new vintage, at the Paris in Willard Hotel , as Washington, D.C. ’s leading wine critic,
while tasting the first wine, is poisoned. Cutler, on home leave from the
American Consulate General in America , is present at the
dinner, and on his return to Bordeaux , finds the murder is
front page news. An inquisitive and charming French newspaperwoman, Sylvie
Marceau, interviews Robbie about the murder. Soon they are finding excuses to
see each other again. Neither one dreams that they will become colleagues in
uncovering a terrorist scheme against the most famous Bordeaux wine estates. Bordeaux
It seems that there is an American connection to the blackmailers, as a French winery owner tells Robbie Cutler, the American Consul, that the blackmailer speaks English with an American accent! With the authority of the American Ambassador, Cutler pours through past visa files to see if he can identify possible suspects. At the same time, he and Sylvie tour the wine regions, and uncover several more estate owners who are being blackmailed. Apparently their detective work is getting too productive, as a car bomb set to murder Cutler is set.
The visit of a prominent United States Senator, on the national ticket as nominee for Vice President, visits
. Robbie travels with
him to Bordeaux and Bayonne on the Basque
coast. At a dinner in Biarritz the terrorists
start to show their hand, and a speech by the Senator in the Basque interior
becomes an invitation to assassination. Robbie and Sylvie must discover the
plot’s leaders, even as they discover their feelings for each other. Biarritz
Anne - Is it part of a series?
William - Yes, Vintage Murder is the first in my diplomatic mysteries series. In the second, Murder On The Danube, Robbie has been transferred to the American Embassy in
. There, against the
background of the Hungarian Revolution against the occupying Budapest, Hungary Soviet Union, a brave group of
street fighters defended their nation. Now, years later, a killer is trying to
kill the survivors. Robbie Cutler is called to solve the mystery when a
prominent American is murdered in the old section of . His efforts reopen
the past – and result in a Russian Mafia contract killer being retained to kill
That isn’t the only peril Robbie faces. He is attracted to the young wife of a fellow diplomat, and they start lunching together. A visit from Robbie’s sister Evalyn uncovers that little secret, and she tells him off. Chastened, Robbie is back in touch with Sylvie Marceau. She is now a national television correspondent, and is sent to cover the visit of French President Sarkozy to neighboring
. Robbie meets her
there, and they are soon engaged to be married. Prague
The story continues in Murder In Dordogne. Robbie and Sylvie are now on their honeymoon in the beautiful, rustic southwest region of
. An old murder
interrupts their honeymoon. Robbie decides that he must solve it, and he does –
while not focusing on another murder plot, this one aimed at him! Fortunately,
his bride is also a skilled amateur sleuth. From now on, they will solve
mysteries together! France
Anne - Of all the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?
William - Robbie’s Uncle Seth Cutler (his great uncle, actually) is the surprise favorite of many readers. He is a nationally prominent man, a former Time Magazine” Man Of The Year,” who was an intelligence operative during World War Two, then became a school headmaster in New England. He led the fight for equal education for minorities and for young women nationally from his school. Uncle Seth kept his intelligence connections, and many of his former students are prominent in both political parties. When Robbie needs to know what is really going on in
, Uncle Seth can let
him know, by coded messages. It is the murder of Uncle Seth’s fiancée during
the war that Robbie solves in Murder In Dordogne. Washington
Anne - What activity consumes your time when you are away from the keyboard?
William - I teach courses on American history, writing, and French wines at
, our community college
here on the Maryland Eastern Shore. On writing, my latest book is Southeast Asian Quartet: Robbie Cutler Stories. This
e-book tells four stories set in Chesapeake College , Singapore and Viet-Nam. The
style is that of Somerset Maugham. The cover shows the former residence of the
American Ambassador in Borneo, Malaysia . For mystery lovers
the second story, “Disappearance from Moonlight Cottage,” should be evocative.
It tells the story of Jim Thompson, the legendary American “Thai silk king” who
disappeared during a stay in the Singapore of central Cameron Highlands Malaya. My wife and I stayed,
as chance would have it, at the same residence from which he disappeared, the
year before that happened. That enables me to recreate the scene, and set forth
various possibilities to explain his disappearance or murder.
Anne - Have you experienced writer’s block?
William - Yes, once. I was nearly through writing Murder On The Danube. Robbie Cutler is pouring over the past, to discover what happened during the Hungarian Revolution. If he knew that, then he would understand why a killer is trying to murder surviving members of the resistance group now. Then I was informed that those records are still a state secret, and are never made public! That stopped me cold for three months. But I guess it is true that the brain keeps working when one is asleep, for one night I awoke, with the idea for solving the difficulty. It has to do with Edgar Allan Poe and “The Purloined Letter", which you’ll recall involves a letter being hidden – in plain sight! That was the insight that I needed to finish the book.
Anne - Would you share an excerpt from Southeast Asian Quartet: “Disappearance from Moonlight Cottage” with us?
William – My pleasure.
The facts of Jim Thompson’s disappearance from Moonlight Cottage, in the
And yet, and yet ... that is what had happened. A few days after his 61st birthday, at the suggestion of his friend, Mrs. Connie Mangskau, Thompson had agreed to spend a few days on vacation in the
, so named because this
hill station, at an elevation of several thousand feet, provided a welcome
contrast to the sweltering heat and humidity of Cameron Highlands and Malaysia . Moonlight Cottage was
owned by Dr. T.G. Ling, a distinguished Chinese physician, and his wife Helen,
an American who ran a highly successful antiques shop in Singapore . Jim Thompson and Mrs.
Mangskau looked forward to a pleasant Easter weekend relaxing in the refreshing
hill climate. The Lings were gracious hosts, and Moonlight Cottage was an
American ideal of luxurious but unpretentious and comfortable British living.
There was a family staff led by Mohammed the cook to look after them. Singapore
On Easter Sunday, all went to services at the small Church of England in Tanah Rata. Thompson walked alone to the foot of the hill by their cottage, and was picked up by the Lings in their car. They attended services, and then bought some newspapers, and returned to Moonlight Cottage to get their picnic baskets. Upon their return, as planned, all went for naps, the Lings to their room, and Mrs. Mangskau to her room, which adjoined the Lings. Thompson, when they saw him last, was in the cottage’s living room, preparing they thought to go to his own room in the back of the cottage, to have his nap.
When the Lings and Mrs. Mangskau got up from their naps, Thompson was not in the cottage. Furthermore, his bed had not been slept in. The Lings recalled having heard through their open window the sound of an aluminum chair being moved on the porch, and a while later, they had heard footsteps – the heavier steps of a European.
But no trace of Jim Thompson was ever found.
It is time for the mystery to be solved.
Anne – Final question. Where can readers find you online?
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