Six years ago I invented a character, Harry Braham. Or more precisely, he came out of a day dream that I had while working as a consultant to financial advisors, a job that I found stultifyingly boring. In the cell-like office they kept us in while we made calls trying to induce struggling financial advisors to buy our program, I had one respite. It was a narrow window from which I could see the parking lot and beyond a fringe of eucalyptus trees, the brown hills of northern San Diego County. It was the sight of those hills that invoked my day dream.
As I looked out at them I began to think of flying. Flying up and over rolling hills as I had done since I was sixteen. I remembered the sweet smell of summer grass and the redolent aroma of oil on hot engine manifolds. I remembered how that before and after flying, I would sit and watch planes take off and land and always wanting to be back in the air. In my daydream I was transported to France–the western front and some shabby airfield where, in my mind’s eye I was readying myself for a flight over no man’s land.
I can’t say how many times that I thought of this scene before I wrote of it. It was only after my first novel; Shadow Soldiers began to sell that I thought of writing another. The second one needed a new protagonist, someone who would have been the right age to fly in the First World War. I took Harry Braham from family names and used an old photo of my father in his helmet and goggles of the Second World War as an image. So, Harry was born and I wrote of his beginnings. There is a lot of myself in Harry. Unlike my first character, Rick Kasten, Harry has more of my own story wrapped into his. At times I am not sure where I end and he begins.
But that was then. He was a young man in 1919, when I introduced him in The Warszaw Express. Since that time, the world changed and so did Harry. Like any of us, he aged and found himself fighting again and again against Nazis and Bolsheviks in an endless struggle. Harry has his scars, as we all do if we survive this life. His love, Agata, was lost in the first book and yet her memory is never far from him. He has had his share of lovers and betrayals and tried, for a time to live a fairly peaceful life, but the world was against him.
Now, I am in the throes of writing another Harry Braham. Why him again? Perhaps it is because like any character that a novelist creates, he has his own way of asserting himself. Harry has become world-wise and world-weary. He has been on the firing line too long and with the end of the Second World War, much of the Europe that he knew and many of the people that he dealt with, good or bad, have vanished in a sweep of fire and death.
In all of the books up to now, Harry did what he did because he saw the struggle between good and evil as a black and white thing. Now, in The Last Klimt he is caught in the half-light of the cold war, where yesterday’s foes have become allies in a new struggle. Compromise and expediency have replaced justice and honor. Harry has to struggle with this on his own.
Harry Braham was never cast in the role of a super-spy. He does not rely on gadgets or very often a gun. He manages to try to stay a step ahead of his opposition and tends to trust in people a little too much. He is also finding that the wear and tear on his own body is something with which he must contend. The old fighter-pilot instincts are still there, but the reactions have slowed a bit. Recognizing friend and foe have become more difficult.
When does a man like Harry ease up? When does he find the right woman to be with, to sit at breakfast over coffee and the paper rather than track some enemy through the mists? He is a forty-something man playing in a younger man’s world. How long can he last? When do the laws of averages begin to tilt away from him? By the time that I finish The Last Klimt I hope I will know.