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Wednesday, January 1, 2014


The King David Hotel
photo by David Shankbone
William S. Shepard, author of the Robbie Cutler Diplomatic Mysteries, makes a return visit to Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers today. The Diplomatic Mysteries are set in American Embassies overseas and mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States. 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. Learn more about William and his books at his website

Today William joins us to talk about travel in the Holy Land.
Christmas In The Holy Land

Holidays are always fun, but for our family, travel always added an extra dimension of enjoyment. We lived abroad for years in the Foreign Service, and tried to spend holidays in meaningful areas. That is why we spent one Halloween in Transylvania, looking for Dracula’s Castle! But when we were at the Embassy in Athens, it seemed the perfect opportunity to visit the Holy Land. Fortunately I didn’t get the duty roster, and so had a few days free. Why not spend Christmas where it began? And so our younger daughter, son and I flew from Athens to Tel Aviv, full of anticipation for a memorable holiday.

We were not disappointed. Security in Israel was tight then, but not oppressive. We were thrilled to see the Shrine of the Book, with the earliest copy of the Book of Isaiah (from the Dead Sea Scrolls) on display. The Marc Chagall stained glass windows at the Hadassah Hospital were extraordinary, each window representing one of the biblical tribes. The Yad Voshem we visited in reverence. And there was time for a bit of recent history. We had dinner at the King David Hotel, and a brilliant performance of “Shalom Aleichem” stories followed in the intimate hotel theater. I was fascinated to realize that the then Prime Minister of Israel had tried to blow up that very hotel during the early days of struggle against the British Mandate.

The Western Wall
We saw the Western Wall, and next to it there was a stone stairway, marked off limits to citizens of Israel. Since that didn’t include us, we ventured up the stairwell, and found ourselves on the Temple Mount. Furthermore, it was even possible to visit both the Al Aqsa Mosque, with its memories of Saladin, and the Dome of the Rock, an imperishable memory. And, of course, the Mount of Olives (with very old olive trees) was a highlight.

The sites we saw included, in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And in Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. Choruses sang in neighboring Manger Square. And security was lighter in those days, with no wall separating the little town from the fields below. And so we walked back through security to find Shepherds’ Fields, and there read the lesson from Luke. We drove back to Tel Aviv Airport directly in our rented car, with memories for a lifetime, and were home in Athens in time to open our Christmas presents. I look forward to a return trip with my wife and older daughter (who were not feeling well enough to travel then).

Mount of Olives
photo by Nemo
The time to travel is when you have the opportunity!

Travel informs many of my ebooks. Sunsets In Singapore is a memoir of our Foreign Service days and travel. My series of diplomatic mysteries echoes my career assignments in Bordeaux, Budapest, Saigon, Singapore and other fascinating cities. The first in the series,Vintage Murder, introduces the diplomatic sleuth Robbie Cutler, and his fiancĂ©e Sylvie and everyone’s favorite character, Uncle Seth Cutler, a retired intelligence operative whom the White House has on speed dial. The latest, The Great Game Murders, has Robbie and the Secretary of State dodging serial Al Qaeda assassination attempts, while savoring the cities of Southeast Asia, China, India and Afghanistan. And for those who armchair travel, there’s a destination for nearly every preference!

The Great Game Murders
Book Five of the Robbie Cutler Diplomatic Mystery series.

The President has decided in view of Chinese threats over the region that American forces should be reconfigured from the Middle East, in a strategic “Tilt Towards Asia.” The Secretary of State, Ronald Adams, flies in Air Force Two on a mission reassuring allies throughout Southeast Asia. His staff assistant, Robbie Cutler, again helps plan the trip to Australia, Singapore, Hanoi, Manila, Bangkok and New Delhi.

Along the way, Al Qaeda hatches several assassination plots against the Secretary – with the help of Chinese covert resources in the region. And they display a deadly facility with cyberwarfare – turning America’s technology against us, as emails from Air Force Two are used in a murder plot against Secretary Adams.

The rivalry between China and the United States calls to mind the Great Game of the nineteenth century, as imperial Britain and Czarist Russia struggled over the approaches to India. The new Great Game concerns much of the same region, with far higher stakes, in the nuclear era. But is official China aware of the working alliance with Al Qaeda?

In Kabul, Robbie Cutler leaves the official party to begin his six month temporary duty assignment in beleaguered Kandahar Province. His adventures include tracking an overland smuggled shipment of ammonium sulfate, the raw material of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). But his greatest satisfaction as he leaves Kabul may be the well that was dug to provide healthy water for the people of remote Maruf District.


Cathy Shouse said...

What an amazing travel post to start off the new year. I would love to go these places and it was wonderful to have a sneak peek from someone so familiar with world wide travel. Thanks for the inspiration!

Bill Shepard said...

Thanks for your comment. The only trips I regret are the ones I didn't take! Hope you have a pleasant and productive New Year.
Bill Shepard

Sally Carpenter said...

What fun to visit the Holy Land on Christmas! If I ever went out of town for Christmas,that's where I'd go. Thanks for the armchair tour.