Inspiration for The Heraklion Gambit

About a year ago, when I was tossing ideas around in my head for the second Nick Temple File, I focused on my time on Crete. In the summer of 1985, Kerry and I spent two weeks there taking in the sights, the sun, the food, and the surf. We picked Crete for the weather. The promise of two weeks of Mediterranean sunshine after nearly two years of Berlin’s predictably dreary weather was a major draw. It was raining when we landed, not a propitious beginning. However, the next day was sunny as were all of the following days. We did as much touring as we could. We spent a morning in Ierapetra on Crete’s southern coast. The town is on the Libyan Sea. Honestly, I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Libyan Sea until that moment. I also learned that Ierapetra is the southernmost point in Europe. We spent a day wandering around what remains of the Minoan palace at Knossos. Kerry was unimpressed. “This place is in ruins,” was how she put it. We went to a museum in downtown Heraklion; took a bus to the beach at Vai which is bordered by the largest palm tree forest in Europe (“forest” is, frankly, a stretch); enjoyed the best dining experience of our lives on the balcony of an outdoor restaurant in Agios Nikolaos; and ate at as many different restaurants as we could in a two-week stretch.

One unexpected addition to our tourist experience was due to the fact that it was election season on Crete. At one point while walking around Lions Square in Heraklion looking for a place to eat we found ourselves inadvertently on the tail end of the local Communist Party’s parade. Not wanting to risk our security clearances, we ditched the parade when we figured out who it was we were walking with. That same evening Melina Mercouri, of Never on Sunday fame, gave a speech on the Square. She was Greece’s Minister of Culture at the time. I have no idea what she said, but the crowd approved. The whole evening was a raucous, noisy affair that was exciting even though we had no clue about Greek politics and didn’t understand a word of what anyone was saying.

Fast forward 27 years to December, 2012. Going on the assumption that it’s easiest to write about the things one is familiar with, I flashed on the idea of an attempted Soviet takeover of Crete. Historically, that plot line fit nicely with the standard Russian ambition for a warm-water port. Additionally, control of Crete would give the Russians a base of operations from which it could dominate the eastern Mediterranean, the Dardanelles, and the Suez Canal. So, Crete it was, and The Heraklion Gambit is the result. And personally, it was a good choice. Half of the fun of writing the book was recalling the two weeks Kerry and I enjoyed on Crete nearly 30 years ago.

Kerry at the Palace at Knossos, May 1985