I have waited far too long to post another entry, and for that I hope you will forgive me. For the past few months, every time I have thought about what I might write next - and this sort of public diary does not come naturally to me, any more than it would to Pekkala - I have reminded myself, or perhaps it would be better to say that my characters have reminded me, that there was other work still to be done. But this weekend I finally put the lid on the latest Inspector Pekkala book. This is #7 and is titled BERLIN RED. It takes place during the final days of the Third Reich against the backdrop of the final showdown between the Red Army and the remnants of the once mighty Wehrmacht. Here is the official description -
The year is 1945.
East of Berlin, the Red Army stands poised to unleash its final assault upon the ruined capital of Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich.
To the north, at a lonely outpost near the Baltic sea, German scientists perfect a guidance system for the mighty V2 rocket, which has already caused massive damage the cities of London and Antwerp. This device, known only by the codename Diamondstream, will allow the rocket to arrive at its target with pin-point accuracy. So devastating is the potential of this newly-mastered technology that Hitler’s promise to the German people of a ‘miracle weapon’ that will turn the tide of the war might actually come true.
When a radio message sent to Hitler’s Headquarters, heralding the success of Diamondstream, is intercepted by an English listening station, British Intelligence orders one of its last agents operating in Berlin to acquire the plans for the device, Desperate to evacuate their agent from the doomed city before the Red Army swarms through its streets, British Special Operations turns to the Kremlin for help.
They ask for one man in particular – Inspector Pekkala.
Anxious to acquire the plans for himself, Stalin readily agrees to risk his finest investigator on what appears to be a suicide mission.
But when Pekkala learns the reason that the British have singled him out, he knows that he must make the journey, no matter what the outcome might be. The agent he must rescue is the woman he had planned to marry, before the Revolution tore them apart, sending her to Paris as a refugee and Pekkala to a gulag in Siberia.
This time, for Pekkala, it is personal.
I hope that sounds appealing. It took a lot of research, and rocket technology is not my forte! One great help to me was a book titled The Bunker, by James P. O'Donnell, who was one of the first American soldiers to enter Hitler's underground complex in Berlin after the cease of hostilities. He went on to interview many of the participants in the final Gotterdammerung, which saw Hitler wedded to his mistress Eva Braun, their suicide soon afterwards and the desperate attempts, some successful and some not, of the Bunker entourage to escape from the battle which was raging all around them.
I am pleased with the way it turned out. Now that I am on the other side, it feels very strange to have spent the better part of a year lost in that concrete labyrinth, wearing that Kabuki theater of masks which make up the characters of Pekkala, Kirov, Stalin as well a a few new faces, such as the German detective, Oskar Hunyadi, and rocket scientist General Professor Hagemann, both of whom I grew quite fond as I tapped out their lives while outside the snows of this past winter were piling up against my windows.
I was so deep down in the mines of writing it that I barely had time to reflect on the release, earlier this month, of The Red Icon, #6 in the series, which was published by Faber & Faber, as all the others have been. I am very grateful for the many kind messages you have sent about the latest book - from all over the world - for your thoughtful suggestions and your encouragement. I cannot tell you how restorative it is to find in my inbox, at the end of a long stint of writing, some friendly words to finish up my day.
I am particularly grateful to those of you who are reading the books in translations of languages so foreign to me that I can scarcely make out what they are, and yet who write to me in English, some of it less polished than others, but all of it more than I could possibly manage in your own languages. The thought that these stories have found an audience in so many different tongues - I think the number is 24 or 25 - is something for which I will always be grateful.
As I have mentioned before, the character of Pekkala is based, at least in part, on my grandfather, who served in the Metropolitan Police in London from the 1930's-50's. I finally stumbled upon his discharge certificate, as well as a picture if him in his very early days of service, when he was working towards his police driving certificate. I have posted those along with this entry. I wish I knew more about him, but he died when I was very young and my own father, from whom I might have learned a great deal, did not survive much longer after that.
I will catch by breath now, for a day or two, before I head back into the mines. If I'm not writing every day, I feel as if I'm only half here. But for now I am going to shut down my computer and put my feet up on my desk and watch the clouds go by.