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Last Sunday we were having luncheon with some old friends who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. At my table was their eldest grandson, just out of college with an interest in international business, and no job. I mentioned to him the State Department’s Foreign Service, and the fact that they are hiring new economic officers, following a rigorous set of written and oral exams. His eyes lit up – he had never really considered this career option. Perhaps you have a grandson, or a brother, niece, or son or daughter in college who might be intrigued. My own interest was started by a book on diplomacy that I chanced upon while rummaging through books in our high school library. It looked like a fabulous career. In many respects, it still does.
Have you ever wondered if diplomacy is all glittering Cary Grant or Sean Connery with no down to earth Dennis Farina or Sylvester Stallone? Would you be intrigued by an invitation to an Embassy reception? And have you ever wondered how diplomats are chosen, and what they do?
The classic, cynical answer to the last question was phrased by an English statesman many years ago: “A diplomat is an honest man who is sent abroad to lie for his country.” However, my experience, gleaned from negotiating a treaty with a communist government, is that the farther apart your country is politically from the host government overseas, the greater the need for candor and honesty.
This all comes up because I took the good advice that every writer is given – write about what you know. And my career was in the Foreign Service as a career diplomat, or Foreign Service Officer (FSO).
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My new series of “diplomatic mysteries” explore this world. In the first, “Vintage Murder,” a thirtyish career diplomat, Robbie Cutler, is assigned as Consul in
. He is brought into a murder and blackmail scheme on the part of a terrorist organization, the Basque ETA (a real group which operates on the border between Bordeaux France and ). In the sequel, “Murder On The Danube,” Robbie is reassigned to the American Embassy in Spain as Political Officer. He must sort out the murder of a prominent visiting American, against the background of the Hungarian Revolution years ago. Budapest
The diplomatic world is pictured here. Robbie holds a staff meeting in
Bordeaux, and participates both in an Embassy conference at (very like the ones I attended), and an Ambassadorial dinner party for visiting Senators. In Paris he briefs a visiting Congressman, shares notes with political officer colleagues from friendly embassies, and takes us inside an Embassy staff meeting. All of this is the actual diplomatic world at work. It is, however, projected upon the need to solve crimes, Robbie’s specialty. And to do so, Robbie must dig deep behind the masks of what people are saying to get to the truth – as a competent diplomat or detective must do. Robbie Cutler, aided by his fiancée Sylvie Marceau, must do both. Budapest
I suppose at one time, diplomacy was like the elegant popular image. That began to fade in Viet-Nam, when FSOs were assigned out of the Embassy and into the countryside. That is becoming more the norm than the exception, as FSOs in current war-torn areas perform civil affairs work. The days of “The Ugly American,” when diplomats did not speak the local language, are long since past. (That film, by the way, inspired the establishment of our Foreign Service Institute, with intensive training in every conceivable foreign language.)
Don’t worry. There are still glittering Embassy receptions, and Robbie Cutler will find lots of scope for his investigations at his next assignment. And the diplomatic world despite the surface glitter is a very real and perilous one, as Robbie will find out as he climbs the career ladder of diplomacy. Fortunately, his wife will then be able to interpret for him with a keen insight what people are trying to hide. She may even solve a murder or two that he hadn’t suspected!
About William S. Shepard
Now residents of
Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Shepards enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, fine and moderate weather, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.
Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard 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
United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five 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 second, Murder On The Danube, now also available on Kindle, 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