Bill Rapp began his professional life as an academic historian of Modern Europe (B.A.: University of Notre Dame; M.A.: University of Toronto; Ph.D.: Vanderbilt University) but left after a year of teaching at Iowa State for something a little less sedentary. So, he spent the next 42 years working at the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst, diplomat, senior executive, and consultant.
Bill started writing while still working full-time at the Agency, but after his retirement in 2017, he has devoted the majority of his time to his fiction and, most recently, to his Cold War Spy series. He claims that this series allows him to combine his twin passions of history and the world of intelligence. It also provides him with an opportunity to draw on the lessons he learned and things he’s seen over the last 40-plus years and, hopefully, provide readers with a realistic glimpse of what it’s like to live and work in that world. Bill also has a three-book P.I. series set outside Chicago, where he grew up and currently lives with his wife, older daughter, and their two dogs outside Chicago. He belongs to the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the International Association of Crime Writers.
A Turkish Triangle, a quick summary: It is October 1962, and the Cuban missile crisis has the world on a nuclear edge. CIA officer Karl Baier is sent to Turkey to investigate the deaths of three Soviet assets, all of whom have either disappeared in the bowels of the KGB headquarters in Moscow or were shot execution style in Ankara and Istanbul. It isn’t long before Baier realizes that the three deaths are only the tip of an espionage iceberg and part of a much more ambitious Soviet operation to undermine America’s posture and policy in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and beyond. Before his assignment is over, Baier will face challenges to his mission, his integrity, and his perception and understanding of the people he has spent his career with inside the Agency. This is the fifth book in the Cold War Thriller series.
What brought you to writing? I have always loved literature, a term I define as broadly as possible. In fact, during my undergraduate years, friends were surprised to learn that I was a history major because I spent so much time reading fiction. During my graduate studies, I found that I occasionally needed a break from reading history, and I was lucky to discover the works of such masters as Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Not only did I find those books incredibly enjoyable, but they were also inspiring and challenging. Once I started dabbling in the world of mysteries and thrillers, I couldn’t stop. I started with a private eye series, naturally, but soon found that my background in intelligence–and a new publisher–led me to a new series in espionage fiction.
What are you currently working on? A Turkish Triangle is the fifth book in the Cold War series, all of which lead the reader through the 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s as we faced off with several adversaries. but principally the Soviet Union, in a global competition. The series began in the ruins of postwar Berlin in 1945 and then progresses through such seminal events as the Hungarian revolt and Soviet invasion, the building of the Berlin Wall, and now the Cuban missile crisis. In the next book, CIA officer Karl Baier–the protagonist throughout the series–is sent to Vietnam in 1964 by then-Director John McCone for his assessment of the developments, challenges, and prospects as Washington prepares to Americanize the war effort. The Director warns Baier not to get involved in operational activity while on this particular assignment, but, of course, as a prototypical operations officer, Baier cannot resist when he discovers the makings of a budding espionage plot that illustrates the dangers and complexities the US faces in that environment. The new book is tentatively titled Assignment in Saigon.
What kind of research do you do? Given my background in history, I am already familiar with much of what went on during the Cold War. However, that information does not suffice for a deep probe into the specific events of the period. So, I do additional reading before I begin to familiarize myself further with the setting and environment for the story, which fortunately gives me an excuse to buy more history books (which drives my wife crazy). But then, like most authors, I find it necessary to do a second, more specific round of research as questions arise over individual items and occurrences as the story unfolds. For example, I often need to find more information on the weapons or automobiles that appear in the story, not to mention the roles of certain historical individuals I introduce. That is also where I can focus more effectively on the physical world as it existed at the time.
Where do you place your settings – real or fictional locations? All my locations are real. I use specific events and crises as the backdrop to the stories to bring the reader to the heart of the Cold War and to help them understand the ambiance, mindset, and perspectives of the period and how the characters react to the challenges of that time. My publisher was the one to suggest this series, and I readily agreed, noting that there are numerous events during the Cold War that provide an intriguing and exciting setting for the novels. That also allows me to create stories that stand alone, despite the use of a single protagonist and other characters that often reappear in the various editions. Each setting and time are unique, which makes for a unique story.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I think there are two aspects to that question. The first has to do with my impatience. It’s basically why I am a pantser and not a plotter. Aside from the fact that I find the former more fun and more creative, I also find that once I start thinking of a story or plot, I want to just sit down and put pen to paper. The other aspect that applies to the Cold War series in particular, is the challenge of placing myself and my characters in an accurate environment for the period. By that, I do not mean the proper physical backdrop–as important as that is– but rather the outlooks, perceptions, and preferences. Writing some 50 to 80 years after the fact, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your characters prescient and omniscient. I know how the various crises turned out, or I know what sort of pitfalls we fell into in Vietnam, for example. Karl Baier and the other characters did not have that advantage.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Well, there are still numerous Cold War crises that await Karl Baier. The largest on the horizon would be the Czechoslovak experiment in “Socialism with a human face” and the subsequent Soviet invasion it produced. I also skipped right past the Korean War and am wondering if there isn’t a way to travel back to that time, much as Philipp Kerr did in his Bernie Gunther series. Also, now that my family has moved back to the Midwest after four decades in the Washington, D.C. area, I’m tempted to revive the suburban noir series starring P.I. Bill Habermann, which is set in the Chicago area and principally my hometown of Naperville.
For those interested in learning more about my books, please visit my website at billrappsbooks.com. Copies of all the books are available on Amazon, from my publisher Coffeetown Press, at Barnes & Noble, or at bookstores near you.