Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post: William S. Shepard, author of "Sunsets in Singapore" and "Murder in Dordogne"

Today I have a guest post from the awesome William S. Shepard, who has written several books (just click on his name and you'll go to his Amazon page to see all of them!), including The Great Detectives (which I read and reviewed here), Sunsets in Singapore (a true account of the author's time working in the foreign service, which I will be reading and reviewing later this month if all goes according to plan), and from the Robbie Cutler Diplomatic mystery series, Murder in Dordogne

After the guest post, I'll be posting a short bio. Without further ado, here's the post!

Memoirs -- William S. Shepard

My diplomatic memoir, “Sunsets In Singapore: A Foreign Service Memoir,” has just been published as an E-book. It records our diplomatic postings at four embassies overseas (Singapore, Saigon, Athens, and Budapest), and the Consulate General at Bordeaux. These experiences were fun to relive, and each had its own emphasis and political setting. Budapest in the Cold War, with Cardinal Mindszenty in refuge at the embassy, for example, was a far different place than that recovering city is today. I’m not even sure that it is entirely possible to revisit the past, with all of its rich associations, by physical a return to the same city. Too much has changed – in the viewer as well.

But as I reread our past chapters in different nations, I have several reactions. One, common to anyone who keeps scrapbooks, is the pleasure of recapturing past moments. And so, let’s remember the Coconut Grove, Yak and Yeti, and the Long Bar!

Three Famous Bars

For example, I relish the memory of sitting at the Coconut Grove Bar in Singapore with Bill Bailey enjoying a San Miguel Beer, all that Bailey still stocked. But the moment was a definite champagne moment, as he claimed to be the original Bill Bailey who wouldn’t go home! It reminded me of Boris, the famous Russian who kept the Yak and Yeti Bar in Kathmandu. Nepal. He was considered something of a security by the then Nepali government, and often found himself behind bars. But they always had to let him out when thee was a state visitor, such as Prince Philip of Edinburgh, for Boris was famously the only man in the mountain kingdom who knew how to plan and execute a state visit!

The Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, on the other hand, was a traditional bar with literary association. Surely Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad (who wrote Lord Jim sitting in a rocking chair on the Raffles front porch, looking towards the sea) slaked their thirsts there. And that is where the Singapore Sling was invented. In May my wife and I returned to Singapore and had our ritual Singapore Slings at the Long Bar – but, alas, it had been moved to the second floor, I suppose so that its patrons would not disturb the hotel patrons checking in the floor beneath them. That was too bad, really, for the atmospherics were lost. After all Cad’s Alley, which used to run from the Long Bar to the reception desk, was where gentlemen used to wait, while planters left to business in Singapore, leaving their wives, it is rumored, to survey Cad’s Alley as they decided whether to leave the hotel to go shopping!

History and Fiction

In "Murder In Dordogne,”the third novel in my diplomatic mystery series, the novel is set in the present time, but concerns a past crime – the murder of an Englishwoman, a member of the paramilitary Special Operations Executive (SOE) who had parachuted into this remote French region in order to help the French Resistance.

The research had to be precise. For that, it was necessary to go back and find out what the area was really like during the war and occupation. It had to be recreated, in order to be realistic. I had to discover how the SOE and the Resistance actually operated, and I incorporated a real mystery – the disappearance of three dozen priceless Impressionist paintings from the region as the war in the area ended. They have never been recovered. They were stolen from the Château de Rastignac, called the “French White House” for its resemblance to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the crime remains unsolved. Weaving together that fact, the Resistance operation, and the activities of the occupiers and their local henchmen, made the plot come alive.

It helped, I think, that this is an area of France that I know very well, having visited the Dordogne repeatedly. The little towns and historical sites remain vividly in my recollection, and I find that most helpful. However, it was necessary to get the period right, including the Messages from London that were transmitted on the BBC, and were life’s blood to resistance groups in Occupied France. That is when history and fiction began to merge.

In this book, written in the first person, my protagonist, diplomat Robbie Cutler and his bride Sylvie are actually supposed to be on their honeymoon! Several readers, while appreciating the background, have said that murders on a honeymoon really should be illegal! Can we blame them?

William S. Shepard - Short Bio

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 Washington tours of duty.

            His diplomatic mystery books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. His main character is a young career diplomat, Robbie Cutler. The first four books in the series are available as E-books. Shepard evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in Bordeaux, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, mines his knowledge of Hungary and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler and his bride Sylvie are just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of France is interrupted by murders.

            The most recent of the series, The Saladin Affair, has just been released as an E-book. Robbie Cutler has been transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author once did, Cutler arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to assassinate the Secretary of State, as they travel to Dublin, London, Paris, Vienna, Riga and Moscow!


  1. Many thanks for the fine interview, Katy. I'd be glad to respond to any comments that your readers might have about my work, writing in general, or diplomacy and how that led to writing diplomatic mysteries!

    1. Excellent - I sent out another round of G+, FB and Tweets, so hopefully you'll get a few :-)

      I know I'm curious about how it was you became a part of the Foreign Service in the first place - was it something you had sought out, or something upon which you stumbled?

    2. I was in high school, and during a free period I stopped by the library and found a book on diplomacy. I started to read it, and the afternoon slipped by. I thought it was the most fascinating career choice, and made up my mind then and there to pursue it. I hadn't heard of the Foreign Service then, much less that entry was available to everyone by competitive examination.

  2. Excellent, William ! On another note I'm a bit jeolous that you've got to see France. I wish you continued sucess with your books!

    1. Especially the Dordogne - Nick Wastnage mentions that a few times in his books and it sounds lovely!

    2. My favorite region is the Loire Valley, where I once went camping and bycycling as a teenager. But the Dordogne is magnificent, with fabulous food, lots of things to see, and those wonderful prehistoric caves, such as Lascaux!

  3. Your memoirs sound truly fascinating, William, thank you for letting us know about your experiences!

  4. I echo Katy's question:I also would like you know how you chose to become apart of the Foreign Service. Also, what was one of the craziest experiences you ever went through?

    Definitely will be checking out your books, William!

    1. Lots of offbeat experiences - the family Halloween vacation in Transylvania, which I write about in "Sunsets In Singapore," probably tops the list!


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