Behind the Book – Bill Rapp

There are several stories behind THE HAPSBURG VARIATION. The first is that this novel is a continuation of the tale told in the preceding book, TEARS OF INNOCENCE, which introduced the main character, Karl Baier, at the beginning of his career in the world of intelligence. It was career that began as the United States was emerging as the world’ s foremost power and just beginning to come to grips with the challenges that would present, particularly in war-torn Europe. Having spent  a great deal of time in Berlin–first as a student of European History, then later as a diplomat at the US Mission in West Berlin when the Wall fell–I wanted to set a story in that marvelous city and during the tumultuous period that followed the end of World War II. At the very outset, though, I was stuck on a story line, and my wife suggested I use her father’s experience at that time, when he moved into a house in the city’s American sector that had been owned by a man with the exact same name as his. I eagerly agreed. Karl Baier’s adventure emerged and quickly told itself.

A devoted student of European History, I had long been fascinated by the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire and the disappearance the cultural and political world it had embodied. I have certainly not been alone in that, as any number of books on turn-of-the-century Vienna and the enduring appeal of writers like Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig will attest.  There is also the magnificent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Of course, 1918/19 marks the real end of the Hapsburg role and place in Europe, but the final nail in their proverbial coffin came with the conclusion of WWII and the temporary loss of much of eastern and central Europe behind the Iron Curtain. I wanted to place one of Karl Baier’s adventures within that historical context, and I came upon the year 1955, when Austria signed its State Treaty with the Allied Powers, re-establishing the country’s independence and sovereignty. But this date also marked the final end of any attempt to restore even the slightest semblance of that world. Vienna, moreover, makes a great setting for a historical thriller–just page through Graham Greene’s The Third Man or sit through Orson Welles’s film adaption of the novel, if you need convincing–and it gave me a wonderful excuse to return to that town to walk the streets, visit the museums and palaces, stop off in the cafes and wine cellars, and just experience the atmosphere in one of the world’s great historical capitals.

THE HAPSBURG VARIATION also places Karl Baier in the heart of Europe and on the front line as the Cold War is reaching its peak. Those years were ones I remember well from my own childhood and later experienced directly as a 35-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency. Like his country and agency, Karl Baier must learn what it means to take on the responsibilities challenges that so many believed America would never have to face, indeed, that were actually alien to America’s heritage as a nation separate from the failures of the Old World. Like so many of his colleagues and compatriots, however, Karl Baier realizes that our continents’ and histories paths are intertwined. He comes to believe deeply in the mission and role his country must play during that period, that the United States did stand for freedom and a better world, and with the Soviet Union as our principal enemy. But he also knows that life and global politics are not always that simple, that national interests can conflict with such high-minded ideals, and that not everyone interprets those principles in the same way.  And then there are the personal histories that so often get in the way, creating dynamics that are rarely covered in training courses or textbooks. It is Baier’s need to navigate those tricky currents that provide the challenges and the real stories as he seeks to serve his country, his agency, and his family. I just hope that readers feel he does it well, even when he stumbles.

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About THE HAPSBURG VARIATION (Coffeetown Press; release date December 1, 2017)
Eight years into his career with the CIA, Karl Baier once again finds himself on the front line of the Cold War. He is stationed in Vienna in the spring of 1955 as Austria and the four Allied Powers are set to sign the State Treaty, which will return Austria’s independence, end the country’s postwar occupation, and hopefully reduce tensions in the heart of Europe. But the Treaty will also establish Austrian neutrality, and many in the West fear it will secure Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and create a permanent division. Asked to help investigate the death of an Austrian aristocrat and Wehrmacht veteran, Baier discovers an ambitious plan not only to block the State Treaty, but also to subvert Soviet rule in lands of the old Hapsburg Empire. Then Baier’s wife is kidnapped, and the mission becomes intensely personal. Many of his basic assumptions are challenged, and he discovers that he cannot count on loyalties, even back home in Washington, D.C. At each maddening turn in the investigation, another layer must be peeled away. Even if Baier succeeds in rescuing his wife, he faces the unenviable task of unraveling an intricate web of intrigue that reaches far back into the complicated history of Central Europe. Book 2 in the Cold War Thriller series, which began with TEARS OF INNOCENCE.
About the Author 
Bill Rapp recently retired from the Central Intelligence Agency after thirty-five years as an analyst, diplomat, and senior manager. After receiving his BA from the University of Notre Dame, an MA from the University of Toronto, and a PhD from Vanderbilt University, Bill taught European History at Iowa State University for a year before heading off to Washington, D.C. The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in the Cold War Spy series featuring Karl Baier. Bill also has a three-book series of detective fiction set outside Chicago with P.I. Bill Habermann, and a thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife, two daughters, two miniature schnauzers, and a cat. For more information, go to