Nick Temple Learns to Surf

Silent Vector begins with Nick Temple on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Eventually he gets around to teaching himself how to surf. It doesn't go well for Nick, but it could have been worse. It's the summer of 1962, and the Caribbean is about to become the epicenter of the superpower showdown known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. As with any other segment in the book, this one has to move the plot along. The brief surfing scene ends with a thief being brutally killed in a manner undoubtedly meant for Nick Temple. What starts out as an innocuous scene moves a deadly plot along simply, quickly, and effectively. Here's the selection from chapter 11 of Silent Vector:

This morning he rented a longboard, put it into the Kaiser Jeep CJ-5 he’s been driving around the island for a month, and drove over the ridge of St. Thomas to Hull Bay. Now, six hours and precious few moments of standing upright on the board for more than two seconds at a time later, Nick is ready to call it a day. His choices aren’t good. He can either paddle the half kilometer back to where his Jeep is parked, or he can take the next small wave (it’s not exactly Waimea, which strikes Nick as a good thing in retrospect) into shore, put the board under his arm and walk. He chooses option number one.

As he approaches the point where his Jeep is parked, his shoulders exhausted, his salt-and-pepper hair and eyelashes caked with sea salt, and his back and face freshly burnt, he sees an islander, a young man perhaps in his early 20s, climb into his Jeep. The fact that the Jeep has no top makes the islander’s move effortless. Nick then sees the man bend over to look beneath the dash.

“The son of a bitch is going to hot wire it,” Nick thinks to himself.

“Hey! Get the fuck away from my car!” he yells.

The islander looks up for a second before resuming his work. Nick paddles furiously, but he’s more than 100 meters away and knows he has no chance if the man knows what he’s doing. And he does. Nick hears the sound of the Jeep’s engine turning over. The islander sits upright, shifts into reverse and. . . . The explosion is ferocious! It throws the shredded islander ten meters into the air. His lifeless body lands with a thud at the high tide mark as what is left of the Jeep is consumed by a ball of fire.

Nick sits up on his surfboard, his lower legs dangling in the warm Atlantic water.

“Tough day to be a thief,” he thinks to himself.

 

Genre and Structure

Four of my books (with a fifth completed) are generally in the thriller genre. They revolve around espionage, government intrigue, and the contest for geopolitical power. A fairly standard genre with many writers practicing their trade in a like manner. Within that genre any number of structures are possible. The one I have employed in all five of the books mentioned above is that of a book-long chase scene. The protagonist gets hints of a plan that will potentially harm the interests it's the protagonist's job to protect. The reader is let in on the antagonist's plan and the book follows the protagonist as he tries to catch up. While surprises are part of the chase, each book has more obstacles than surprises, and those obstacles allow the antagonist to stay ahead of the protagonist for most of each novel. So let's be honest, in a James Bond story, there is little question that Bond will survive and that he will conquer his enemy. So it is with my books. How the protagonist survives and conquers is the meat of the story. The reader observes the chase without undue obfuscation. Hopefully, that will keep the reader's attention without having to resort to surprise turns in the plot or revelations that conveniently, and perhaps artificially, aid the protagonist in the chase. It's a straightforward structure, and that's as it should be, I think. After all, as Tolstoy pointed out, there are really only two stories: a stranger comes to town, and a man goes on a journey. Sending a hero on a journey in an espionage thriller states succinctly what I do in most of my prose.   

Excerpt From The Flemish Coil

The Flemish Coil, Nick Temple File no. 4, sits awaiting publication. I'm hopeful that will take place sometime before the end of the year. The book is unique in my writing experience in that I had a title for it years before I actually wrote it. I learned what a Flemish coil is more than 30 years ago when I was spending time with my father on his boat. I immediately thought, "That sounds like the title of a spy novel." I was reading through his collection of spy thrillers at the time, so that may have influenced my thinking. The bottom line is that I had to sort of back the plot into the title, not an easy feat, at least not for me. The selection below is from the book's first chapter. It takes place on the Glienicke Bridge, the so-called "Bridge of Spies," which entered into the contemporary consciousness thanks to Steven Spielberg's movie starring Tom Hanks. Those of us who served in Berlin during the Cold War could almost feel the bridge's presence at the southwest corner of the city, where east met west, where two superpowers traded human beings as bargaining chips in a deadly geopolitical game. I hope you enjoy it.

FROM CHAPTER 1 OF THE FLEMISH COIL

The two sets of seven men begin walking towards each other. When they are near the middle of the bridge and 20 meters apart they stop. Thompson separates himself from his armed escort as does Smertov. The spies walk slowly towards each other. They are now in the middle of the bridge, one step away from the American sergeant. They stop, facing each other.

“What the fuck are they doing?” the major thinks to himself. “Keep walking, dammit. Keep walking!”

The two men simply shake hands before they resume walking across the bridge. The major breathes a sigh of relief as the exchange is nearly complete.

“Too much cloak and dagger bullshit. There’s got to be an easier way to do this,” he thinks for about the twentieth time since getting this assignment.

Both men are no more than three meters from their countrymen, three meters from returning home, three meters from some measure of freedom when the major hears the faintest of noises from the wooded area north and east of the bridge, like an instant rush of compressed air, followed in less than three seconds by another.

Thompson and Smertov, one immediately after the other, drop to the pavement, each mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet to the skull.

The Russia Mess

Let's be honest. The Russia mess is embarrassing. Here we are nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War and Russia has got us daily chasing our tails in a way that makes us look like rank amateurs on the world stage. Who's meeting with the Russians? What did they do to our presidential election? How did they do it? Why were we unable to stop it? Why do they seem to be about 10 steps ahead of us? What will they do next? Will we be ready? Do we have any idea how to go on the offensive in this new version of warfare? Are the rapid changes in technology working against us so thoroughly that we'll always be behind this determined and capable adversary?

It's starting to feel, on the technology level at least, like 1957 when the Soviet launch of Sputnik shocked America and its partners in the free world. But here's the thing, it shocked us into action. Sure there was a round of fingerpointing as people tried to find someone to blame for being so clearly behind our feared enemy. But we got to work. We established NASA and charged it with catching up and moving us ahead, we retooled our basic education system, and we generally committed ourselves to the sort of national effort needed to respond to the challenge posed by the Soviet's clear geopolitical advantage. 

What do we see happening now? Denials, cover-ups, infighting, wishful thinking, accusations, and that's about it. None of those constitute a strategy for overcoming this newest Russian threat. Where are the bright ideas from our best minds about what we should be doing strategically to successfully fend off future cyber attacks? Where is the national leadership challenging us to work together to meet this obvious national emergency? Why do we not see an American public united in its resolve to defeat the most recent threat to our democracy? While we bitch about each other, while we spout partisan nonsense for God knows whose consumption, while we call each other "the enemy" and worse, you can bet the Russians, when they're done laughing at us, are hard at work on the next generation of cyber attacks. Given the apparent success of their recent efforts, I shudder to think what the next round might bring if we fail to act decisively and collectively in our clear national interest. Maybe our social, political, and economic leaders should take a hard look at our response to the events of 1957, and see what lessons those very dark days of the Cold War hold for us. That's got to be better than what they're doing now. 

And One More Makes Seven

The Fourth of July. A great day made better by receiving my copies of The Holy Lance. Today is its official release day although it's been available on Amazon for a couple of days now. The Holy Lance is my seventh book, and just because I can't help myself I took a snapshot of my complete works. One more is done, and there should be at least one more after that. Who knows, maybe I'll hit double figures. Feeling pretty good about the whole writing thing today.

Many years of work in one spot.

Many years of work in one spot.

The Holy Lance Listing on Goodreads

The Holy Lance is just days away from being released. Even though the book's not yet available and can't be ordered until July 4th, it does have a Goodreads listing and can be marked "Want to read." Take a look, check it out, kick the tires, and if you like what you see, mark it as "Want to read" and don't forget to come back on the Fourth of July to order it. Oh, and be sure to tell 100,00 of your closest friends!

A Few Thoughts About the State of American Democracy

While contemplating the degradation of America's political institutions, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about where we've been and where we seem to be headed.

There are three fundamental principles of American representative democracy. The first two are descriptive, the third is aspirational and protects against the tyranny of the majority. Those principles are: the people are sovereign; the people exercise their sovereignty through elected representatives; and the majority cannot harm the minority.

The first principle is an abstraction that requires a mechanism for realization. The second principle is that mechanism. It requires rules to fairly implement, and it assumes fair and even implementation of the principle is desirable and possible. The third, simple enough on its face, is at once highly problematic and absolutely necessary. In its absence, as noted above, democracy is simply a tyranny of the majority. We have struggled, often violently, over the third principle for all of our history.

For two centuries the majority rationalized its unceasing harm of the minority. The majority now correctly perceives its inevitable transition into the minority, and it suddenly insists on a perverse application of the third principle, that protection of the minority should equal ascendence of the soon-to-be minority over the emerging majority. (By the way, that application is similar to protections John Calhoun sought in antebellum America for an increasingly politically outnumbered slave-owning class.) Additionally, that application, many in the fading majority hope, will result in de facto and de jure permanent minority status for the emerging majority.

Three institutions, one informal, one formal and largely immutable, and one formal and subject to only those changes it is willing to undergo, are manipulated for the long-term benefit of the fading majority: redistricting, the electoral college, and the Senate. SCOTUS can eliminate the gerrymandering that occurs under the first; the states can eliminate the second; and only the Senate can reform itself. If none of those reforms happen, our representative democracy will continue on its present path and eventually resemble South Africa under apartheid.

What, if anything, happens after that is a crapshoot. 

New Nick Temple File Takes Shape

While I work on getting The Flemish Coil, Nick Temple File No. 4, published, the germ of an idea for No. 5 has started to form. I've settled on a location - the Bavarian Alps. My wife was TDY from Field Station Berlin to the U.S. Army Russian Institute (USARI) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the last six months of 1984. I made the trip to Garmisch several times (flight from Flughafen Tegel to Munich, bus from the airport to Munich's Hauptbahnhof, and then a train to Garmisch) during that fall. Garmisch will serve as the geographic center of the action. I also plan to include a number of other cities and towns in the general area, places such as Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Berchtesgaden.. I've settled on the outline of a plot. I'm going to have Sheridan Barracks in Garmisch, which became the home of USARI, formerly Field Detachment R, in May of 1964, serve as a central repository for all information regarding U.S. military and civilian espionage and counterespionage activities in Europe. This fictional repository is targeted by the Soviets when they learn of its existence in late 1964. I've started an outline and my research, which includes sifting through my own archives, photographs, and memories. The photograph below was taken in Garmisch in October of 1984, about 4 months before Kerry and I were married. Garmisch holds a special place in our hearts, and it will be a delight to write about it as ground zero for my next Nick Temple File.  

On the streets of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1984.

On the streets of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1984.

What's in a Cold War's Name?

When World War I ended, it was not referred to as such. It was given many names, such as The Great War and the War to End All Wars, but no one at the time decided that another World War, maybe even bigger and better, was just down the road so we should call this one World War I. It wasn't until the Second World War that the earlier conflagration got its label as the First World War. I hope we can all agree on the foregoing as being accurate. Fast forward to 2017.

Many observers have taken to calling the tension of the last few years between the U.S. and Russia a new Cold War. I'm not sure I agree with the description or assessment, but who am I to buck a trend? So, following the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," I'm joining those referring to our current difficulties with Russia as a new Cold War. With that in mind, I'm going to take a page out of the hot war-renaming playbook. From this moment on, I'll refer to the Cold War that I participated in and that presumably ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union as Cold War I. Naturally, I'll refer to the Cold War in which we find ourselves currently engaged as Cold War II. In my view, the label makes it easier to distinguish one era from another in a way that is less cumbersome than other styles. We'll see if I'm out in front on this one or, as is usually the case, simply out in left field.

Do Putin & Trump Hold the Keys to Each Other's Dreams?

I learned Russian at the Defense Language Institute during the last decade of the Cold War. With two exceptions, my teachers were native speakers, men and women who either fled the Soviet Union or were allowed to emigrate for one reason or another. In general, they were demanding, professional, patient, kind, and always interesting, exactly what good teachers should be. One lesson from our mutual interaction was the age-old realization that getting to know someone as an individual works to erode preconceived notions about them as a group. After leaving the Institute, especially during three years in Berlin when I helped keep tabs on the Red Army, I never forgot the fondness I had for the Russians I'd met and worked with in Monterey. As is often the case, most of us in the intelligence line of work realized that ordinary Americans and Russians would probably get along quite well given the chance to do so by the leadership of the two countries. Many of us also believed, in a pollyanna sort of way, that the development of lasting ties between ordinary Russians and Americans might provide a way out of the global conflict that had been ongoing since the end of World War II. That was the early 1980s.

Fast forward to early 2017. The rapprochement that appears to be on the horizon between Russia and the United States is being carried on at an elite level, a level that has no use for or interest in broad-based cultural understanding and exchange. While any easing of tension between two geopolitically important nations is normally cause for optimism, this current version seems aimed not so much at bringing the two countries and their people closer together as serving the economic and political aspirations of no more than a handful of men. Frankly, I don't believe for a minute that our soon-to-be president is seeking close ties with Putin to mount a successful challenge to ISIS in Syria. Nor do I believe that close cooperation between elites in the two countries will, or is meant to, create an impetus for meaningful democratic reform in Russia's autocratic state. Trump's search for opportunity in Russia is, I believe, focused on amassing personal wealth. Putin's quest for American ambivalence about Russia's irredentism is a search for personal power and acclaim. They both seem to believe that the other holds the key to achieving their personal goals without regard for the general interests of the people in whose name they claim to lead. What's occurring, if I'm right, has nothing to do with leadership, and everything to do with different versions of greed. 

The Heraklion Gambit Gets a Thumbs Up!

U.S. Army vet Joe Munoz has written another review, this one for The Heraklion Gambit. Looks like Joe's a fan of Nick Temple. Always great to hear from a satisfied customer. Here's his review:

"The Heraklion Gambit, the second novel from the Nick Temple File is just as exciting as Switchback. Again, readers are taken into intelligence operations from different locales. From Berlin, to DC, to Crete, and the characters are just as different as the places described. Readers get to become familiar with Temple’s supporting cast. As they battle the KGB in their sinister plot. There is action on every page with it all leading into the climax between good versus evil." Joe Munoz

An Army/Berlin Vet Reviewed Switchback!

Joe Munoz, a Army veteran who was on active duty in Berlin during the Cold War, had this to say about Switchback. Thanks, Joe. I'm glad you enjoyed the book!

"Switchback, by Jonathan Dyer is a must read for people who enjoy the Cold War period. This book is a thriller, and having served in West Berlin myself, I can tell you that Dyer shows his readers the true landscape of Berlin. His imagery makes the storyline even better. The Nick Temple character is shown with all his flaws, but he’s a man that puts his country above all else. The plot is fluid and Dyer gives his readers a view of how intelligence operations unfold from various perspectives. People who want to know how the spy game operated during this time will not be disappointed with this novel." Joe Munoz

Goodreads Giveaway Ends but Free Kindle Copies Still Available - Let Me Explain

Wow! 890 people entered the Goodreads giveaway for a shot at winning a free copy of Let Me Explain. The publisher will now send the lucky winner his or her paperback copy. But, for the other 879 readers, a free Kindle copy of the book is still available for a limited time. Click here for the American version. If you're a Brit, click here. So, if you didn't win, not to worry. You can still get the book for no charge at all. What a great way to start 2017!

A Nick Temple Christmas

I created the Nick Temple character when I was working as an intercept op at Field Station Berlin. Our shifts, especially mids, were at times quiet affairs with little to do. During the quiet moments I created Nick Temple, one paragraph at a time. The character at the time was more a parody of espionage novel heroes than anything else, and the snippets were fun to write. Our local area network allowed me to post the paragraphs for all to see. The men and women of Field Station Berlin thus became the first to be introduced to Nick Temple. The selection below is from Christmas of 1985. It's a favorite, so I repost it from time to time. It's raw and overdone, and I hope you like it.

"Nick froze in place. Not a muscle of his finely tuned body twitched. There was some sort of noise coming from the top of the building. 'A clumsy intruder,' Nick thought to himself. There had to be more than one of them. Nick checked to make certain that the P-38 hidden under his smoking jacket was fully loaded. He climbed the first flight of stairs of his luxurious Chevy Chase home with the swiftness and ease that came with years of constant training. He walked undetected to the emergency exit that led out to the helipad that he'd had installed on the roof at the president's request. 

"When he reached the snow covered roof he saw what he was up against. There were eight of them. With a quick reload he could take them out before they knew what had hit them. He crouched low behind the central air conditioning intake duct and waited for his moment.

"He leaped out, firing with his right hand, diving to his left. The clip was empty and six of them were dead. He reloaded in less than two seconds and he came up firing. Two more rounds was all it took.

"Nick walked over to the scene of death. He recognized them from the file: Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Prancer, Vixen. One was missing. . . "  

Let Me Explain and Steinbeck

The second half of Let Me Explain is set in Monterey, California. I lived in Monterey for 18 months back in the early 1980s. If you spend any time at all in Monterey you'll feel a natural pull to the works of John Steinbeck. Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row are his best known works set in Monterey, and they were the ones most familiar to me when I arrived in August of 1981. By then, I'd been living in California for the better part of 4 years. And while Monterey is a unique expression of the California experience, the contrast between it and New England is much sharper. Harry Taft, the narrator of Let Me Explain, arrives in Monterey after a cross-country bus ride. It's his first, fresh encounter with the west coast in general, and with Monterey in particular. I tried to imagine the sensation of seeing and feeling that wonderful place for the first time. Harry's first impressions are below. When I wrote these and similar passages, I was aware of Steinbeck's towering presence. My aim was not to simulate his prose; my aim was to do justice in my own voice to a spot that has since my arrival had a profound, enduring, and even romantic influence on much of my adult life. I hope you enjoy what I've done.  

"I was a mess. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in about a week and, with the exception of a single shirt change, I had been wearing the same clothes for the last four days. I didn’t care. I was here in Steinbeck’s Monterey, and I wanted to see if there was anything left of it. The sun was bright and it was a perfectly clear day. I noticed that the quality of light is somehow different from the light back east; it has a crisp, blue quality with its own soft shades that would never come through in the thick light of the eastern woods.

"I sat on a bench down by the docks for a few minutes and looked out at the bay, at the dunes off to the east and north, at the jetty heading east into the bay, at the hills rising off to the west, Danny’s hills. The air was thick with the smells of fish and salt and strange plants I had never smelled in the east and the water sparkled with this new light of the west. 

"After about half an hour on the bench I grabbed my pack and started walking west and north, following the line of the bay. I came to a tired wharf packed with restaurants and shops. I followed the smells of steam and fish and crab and found a small, cheap seafood restaurant on the east side of the wharf. I had a quick lunch of chowder and crackers, and while I ate I remembered what I could about what I’d read, and as I sat by this bay I was still not far enough from what had brought me to this point. I was considering my lessons. No one sat near me, but the waitress was friendly enough.

"After lunch I continued on along the bay. I passed a slight, shallow beach just the other side of the wharf. About fifty yards out from the beach were a few small sloops tied to moorings. I followed a sidewalk through dry pines and around a small salient in the peninsula. Traffic passed on my left along a road that follows the wrap of the bay. I soon passed a large jetty, the same one I had seen from the bench. A Coast Guard cutter was tied to a pier along the jetty and the jetty beyond the pier was covered with seals whose lazy calls mixed with the Monterey light to produce an utterly new sensation of place.

"The sounds, smells, and light were welcome gifts at the end of my long ride. I found excitement without dread in the unfamiliar, in the nearly exotic. I found a strong surge of joy in the fresh aspects of this place haunted by nothing more than recent traditions to which it must still be linked. I wanted to use it all to scrub away my eastern decay, to be cleansed by things Pacific. At the same time, I ignored a strange sense of infidelity.

"I kept as close to the sparkling water as I could. I passed beneath the hill of some Army base, just to the bay side of another busy street that made me think of a Mediterranean dream. I headed down toward the bay again.

"By staying close to the water I found Cannery Row and some of its relics: the Chinese Market, Kalisa’s, and some closed tin factories, all surrounded by new traps replacing the fading dream. I kept on walking and I passed some sort of ocean studies institute set out by itself on a point. Eventually, I came to a village named Pacific Grove where it looked like the bay was giving way to the Pacific. I walked with the water on my right, along paths through more strange plants, past tide pools and dunes, by a rocky coast full of the smell of ocean life and death, until after three or so miles, I found the beach that sits in the title of Bardolph’s poem “Asilomar.” I walked over the rocks, past more tide pools, and onto the beach where I rested and watched the ocean."

The Flemish Coil Cover Begins to Take Shape!

It's been a busy week. Let Me Explain was released on Wednesday with promotional pricing for the paperback and a free copy available via Kindle. My copies arrived this morning, As I've noted elsewhere, there is no greater thrill for me as an author than holding a completed and published work in my hands. There's just something deeply satisfying about it. On top of all of that, Coline LeConte, the artist who is putting together the cover for Nick Temple File no. 4, the Flemish Coil, emailed a number of mockups, one of which is below. We're now working to get the color combinations right, and the back cover copy, including a short review from a retired special force three-star General, formatted. With luck, that book will be out before the end of the year. The Flemish Coil has been a long time in coming. I put it down for nearly two years as I was unable to figure out a couple of perplexing plot points. It all came together this summer, and the result is, at least in my view, another solid entry to the Nick Temple collection. I hope that readers agree.

 

First crack at a cover for The Flemish Coil

First crack at a cover for The Flemish Coil