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 Wine Tours France and is also the author of Shepard’s Gujide to Mastering French Wines.
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If I could time travel, what time period would I go to, and why?
My time travel would take me to France in 1788. I am an American, and have just served in George Washington’s Continental Army, with combat at Yorktown. Now France seems to be on the brink of her own eruption. There is misery everywhere – the price of bread has risen, and the wet weather during harvest has affected the rye in the wheat strangely, some say that it causes hallucinations. There are intellectuals abound talking about an ideal society, while around them the real society is beginning to collapse.
The Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. There are only seven prisoners liberated, including the Marquis de Sade, and the soldiers on duty are massacred, but the event remains somehow in the collective memory, purified by the intentions of the people. Soon, however, a Constituent Assembly is elected, and it gradually assumes more and more power, until the Monarchy is itself toppled, with King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette guillotined, and the fate of their son still debated.
The Napoleonic Era begins as a gifted and charismatic Corsican wins victories for France, on an ever increasing scale. Society becomes stabilized after the excesses of revolutionary terror. I hope I will, like the Abbé Sieyes, be able to say that my accomplishment during this period was to have survived it! To the Empire and imperial overreach in Russia the Grand Army perishes – and with them, the first American diplomats who die overseas, tracking the Russian campaign.
Now France is in turmoil looking for order and a measure of justice, as monarchy succeeds empire and is succeeded by a republic – then an “empire” once again. It is in this turmoil that Eugene-François Vidocq, the first detective and the first subject of my ebook, appears. A thief, convicted galley slave and possibly even a murderer, Vidocq was a criminal who realized that he would inevitably end on the guillotine. He decided to make a career out of what he knew best – crime – but to do it on the side of the police!
Gradually, he worked his way into the confidence of the Paris police, and was released from prison. However, his undeniable skills led him far. He developed an intelligence brigade of former criminals, and perfected such details as regional accents and costumes, as he and his operatives spied on criminals. Gradually, the arrest rate rose, and with it, Vidocq’s career took flight. He became the Director of the Intelligence Brigade, and the Paris police under his leadership became more effective than anything in London or New York. This former criminal was even a consultant on the formation of Scotland Yard!
His Memoirs are a gold mine of information, which guided writers from Dumas to Dickens and Dostoievsky. Balzac used him as a detective prototype, and in Les Miserables he was the model for both the pursued criminal Jean Valjean and the relentless Inspector Javert. Out of office, he even founded the world’s first detective agency! Edgar Allan Poe refers to him by name in the first detective story, “The Murders In The Rue Morgue.”
I would like to have known this rogue, and his fascinating era. Society was torn apart, and it became material for some of the world’s finest novelists. I enjoy exploring this world in “The Great Detectives (From Vidocq to Sam Spade),” and I hope more readers will share my enthusiasm.
I was a career diplomat, and so have traveled extensively. The most exotic place was surely the week I spent in Kathmandu, Nepal, some thirty-five years ago. I was stationed at the American Embassy in Saigon, and some of us got leave to visit Nepal. Then, the number of Westerners who had ever been there would have been a few hundred at most. I remember the Yak and Yeti Bar, where a bartender named Boris was an entertaining teller of tall stories. The temples were of wood, and their famous exotic sculptures had a function – the Nepalis believed that the goddess of lightning was a prude, and would turn away from erotic sculpture, thereby safeguarding the temples!
What was the setting for the most romantic scene you’ve ever written?
In Vienna, Austria, in my latest novel, “The Saladin Affair,” my main character, Robbie Cutler, a career diplomat, is travelling with the Secretary of State. To his surprise his wife, Sylvie, bored with life at home, flies to Vienna to join him. They have an evening free from official functions, and so enjoy a dinner in the private dining room of the Hotel Sacher. The four tables there gleam with silver under the candelabra, and the food and service are world class. (It is a dinner my wife and I have enjoyed – a far cry from our days as American students at the University of Vienna, when we couldn’t have afforded such a treat!)
Sounds like a very romantic scene. What’s your favorite childhood memory?”
I remember a Christmas when there were many presents under a huge tree. We had a cat named Peter, my first pet. I used my pocket money and bought a catnip mouse for him. To my astonishment, the next morning, of all the presents under the tree, Peter had found and “opened” his own present. I was sure he could read, and that is what our local New Hampshire newspaper reported in its article about our wonderful, literate cat the day after Christmas!
That's a neat story and a great family memory.
These four essays trace the birth and evolution of the detective story, from its origins in the early nineteenth century to the great American masters, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
The first essay begins with Eugène-François Vidocq, a picaresque French criminal who became, by degrees, a police spy and then, the originator and Chief of the first modern police intelligence bureau, the Brigade de Sûreté. This former galley slave and convict was larger than life, so much so that his life and writings became the stuff of great literature – from Victor Hugo to Dostoyevsky. Trace him here, as modern criminology is born – and with it, the modern detective story.
We continue with the tormented writer, Edgar Allan Poe, who created the first detective story, Murders In The Rue Morgue alluding to his debt to the writings of Vidocq as he did so. Not content with that achievement,Poe had his celebrated C. Auguste Dupin, in The Mystery of Marie Roget, solve an actual crime that had baffled the New York police.
The second essay treats three eminent Victorian writers. Charles Dickens, in Bleak House, introduces Mr. Bucket, a police detective who is probably the fictional edition of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Field. Wilkie Collins, in The Moonstone, may deserves honors as the author of the first detective novel. Both Dorothy Sayers and T. S. Eliot considered it the finest detective novel ever written.
With Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal Sherlock Holmes, we have a fictional creation (if, indeed, he is fictional) who has clearly upstaged his creator. William Shepard is a Sherlockian, and here he reveals, amongst many fascinating details about Holmes, just where the name “Sherlock” in all likelihood first appeared to Conan Doyle. And he tackles the question, why didn’t Holmes solve the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888?
The third essay concerns a trip of great mystery writers, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Georges Simenon, the creator of the great French detective, Inspector Maigret. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are viewed in detail, as is Dorothy Sayers’ fine creation, “half Bertie Wooster and half Fred Astaire,” Lord Peter Wimsey.
Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe complete the list, representing the American hard-boiled school. A bibliography, containing links to The Maltese Falcon film errors and favorite writings of Raymond Chandler, completes your reading pleasure.
Purchase Link for The Great Detectives
William, thank you so much for guesting today. I enjoyed your visit.
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