“Write about what you know,” the advice given to new writers, is sound advice. Since my career was in the diplomatic service, it seemed logical to me to write about that world. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be a good idea to have a diplomatic sleuth, a sort of Sherlock Holmes in black tie.
And this was the thought behind my creation of a new subgenre, which I call “diplomatic mysteries.” The series introduced several continuing characters, of course starting with my protagonist, a thirty something career Foreign Service Officer named Robbie Cutler. We will see his career advance from embassy to embassy in a variety of jobs, just as happens in the real career Foreign Service. In the most recent novel, “The Saladin Affair,” he is Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, and must contend with Al Qaeda during the Secretary’s first official overseas trip.
Continuing characters start with his girl friend Sylvie Marceau, who helps him solve several murders in “Vintage Murder,” the first book in the series. They become engaged in “Murder on the Danube,” and the third book, “Murder in Dordogne,” takes place on their honeymoon. Everyone’s favorite character, it seems, is Robbie’s Great Uncle Seth Cutler. He is a nationally prominent educator and former intelligence operative. I invented him, frankly, to give Robbie Cutler access to high level intelligence information in Washington. Robbie’s sister Evalyn keeps her brother out of trouble from time to time, when she is not a potential victim of terrorism herself!
One of the threads linking the series is Robbie’s interest in good wines. (I served as Consul General in Bordeaux, and have written extensively about wines.) This has actually become something of a promotional device at retail wine stores, which might not otherwise be expected to feature mystery books. “Vintage Murder” is set in Bordeaux, and on the cover is the wine label for Château Michel de Montaigne, a property actually owned by Montaigne which now produces wine. A key scene in the novel takes place there. I’m told that the estate now features this book in its gift shop.
Wine labels are used, by permission of course, in each novel in the diplomatic mystery series. In the latest, “The Saladin Affair,” the label is of the Dominus California wine, which is owned by the celebrated Bordeaux wine authority, Christian Moueix. The wine is of course also mentioned in the novel itself. This becomes a sort of product placement, and when the book was published, the estate ordered a number of copies of the mystery for its wine clientele.
There is no reason why other products cannot be used in the context of a mystery novel, just as products have been displayed prominently for many years in films. With diplomacy, wine is a natural. With your book, it may be another product. Let your imagination be your guide!
Now residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the William and Lois Shepard enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.
Shepard has published several books using the new EBook technology, including “Coffee Break Mysteries,” “The Great Detectives (From Vidocq to Sam Spade),” and “Maryland In The Civil War.” The last two grew out of his lectures under the continuing education program at Chesapeake College.
Shepard notes that he started researching “Maryland In The Civil War” out of his longstanding interest in the overall subject. What he discovered, however, was astonishing – the role of a largely unknown Maryland Governor, Thomas Hicks, in keeping our state in the Union in 1861. It is a story as heroic as any in Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage, and one that should be more widely known.
Shepard, a prize winning mystery writer, is also the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, now comprising four novels 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. These books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government.
Shepard is Wine Editor for French Wine Explorers (www.wine-tours-france.com) and is also the author of Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines.