Several books ago I left Harry Braham in a Zurich hotel room with his old nemesis/lover Valentina Koniev. It was the night of 7 December 1941, in Switzerland and not yet morning in Washington. For some time, I have been, like many novelists struggling with what to do with a situation that I created and published. There’s not much one can do to alter a passage that is already out there in print. So, I pondered about another idea. How about building a novel that incorporates that meeting? Good idea, but about what?
This is where fate steps in. An old friend from high school, now an esteemed professor at a prestigious university sent me an article that he had picked up on one of his annual trips to Krakow, Poland. It was an interesting piece about a ruined castle and the home of a Polish hero of the home army who had died at the hands of the Nazis. Well, though both parts of the narrative piqued my curiosity it was of course the part about the Nazis that got me thinking.
It turned out that this martyred hero, Anton Kocjan, had been an aircraft designer. He had built gliders before the Second World War and one of his designs was copied and adopted to become the infamous V-1 “buzz bomb” used by the Germans against England. Ok, interesting enough, but then I started digging and uncovered a treasure-trove of information on the German, Italian, Russian and American rocket development programs of the 1930s. Yes, the 1930s–surprised? Well, I then asked myself the question: what would Harry Braham do?
Specifically, with his background in flying for the Pilsudski government in the 1920s that I wrote about in The Warsaw Express and his background in military aviation that I covered in The Rhinemaiden’s Song and The White Raven maybe Harry could come back once more.
I mulled about this for a couple of weeks and put some words on paper. They story was ok, but it did not have a theme, and anyway how was I going to work in Valentina? I wrote some more, trashed several thousand words and then it hit me. This was not going to be a story just about Harry Braham, because Harry never appears just solo in his stories. No, this time the book would incorporate as many of Harry’s friends and sidekicks as I could manage.
But then, where to begin? Do I start with the scene in his room at the Zum Storchen hotel, or do I start somewhere else? My brain went into overdrive until I hit on it. Since Harry had made it to Zurich at the end of The Last Voyage of the Paramaribo Queen, a book in which he was just a minor character, I would tell the story of how he came to be there and what happened after he arrived in Switzerland. Better still, here was a way to bring all the characters that I could into play. Not only Valentina and the lovely Arielle, but Harriet Kingman, her husband Tommy, Braham’s old mentor Raymond Kingman, the ever efficient Karl Lieberman, suave Jerzy Krol, but a cast of new people, spies, cabbies, scientists and several of the obligatory Nazi bad guys could be rolled into this one. Why not?
So, now that I had the who, I needed to weave in the where, why and what of the story. As for the where, think of Pomerania, New York, and Switzerland. As for the why, well let’s just say no one wants the Germans to build a strategic rocket. As for the what, there are stolen plans obtained through blackmail, the death of an innocent man and a world on fire from Pearl Harbor to Smolensk.
So, if you like the Harry Braham stories that I have written, I am hoping you will like this one as well. You can find all of my books at Amazon.com in soft cover or for Kindle.