The Hapsburg Variation, by Bill Rapp: Death and Abduction in Postwar Vienna

hapsburg_variationThe Hapsburg Variation ($15.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-643-4) is a historical mystery by Bill Rapp. As the Allies prepare to sign the State Treaty granting Vienna its independence, a CIA agent investigates the case of a murdered aristocrat in hopes that it will lead him to his kidnapped wife.

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Rapp worked at the CIA for thirty-five years as an analyst, diplomat, and senior manager. He is also the author of a three-book series of detective fiction set outside Chicago with PI Bill Habermann and a thriller set during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in the Cold War series, which began with Tears of Innocence.

“Set in 1955, Rapp’s sturdy second thriller finds the CIA officer stationed in Vienna as the deputy chief of station. [….] Rapp, a 35-year veteran of the CIA fills his tale of Cold War intrigue with authentic historical detail.” Read more….

Publishers Weekly

The Hapsburg Variation is a rock-solid espionage tale that will hook you from page one. This is the rare thriller, set at the leading edge of the Cold War, that’s so totally authentic you are immersed in the atmosphere of the times and you might expect a young George Smiley to pop in at any moment. A great story that keeps you on the razor’s edge of tension right to the end. The book’s hero, Karl Baier, is the most fascinating character of his type since Len Deighton’s unnamed agent in Funeral in Berlin—a man you’ll relate to even if his story takes place before you were born.”

—Austin S. Camacho, author of the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series

“An entertaining read […] imbued with history and the global politics of the 1950s.”

—The New York Journal of Books

“…I liked the writing, the post-war ambiance, the characters, and the nasty geo-politics well enough to be willing to think I should get the first novel and start over at the beginning.” Read more…

—Historical Novel Society

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 post-war 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.

Says Rapp, “I have a PhD in European History and have always been fascinated by the collapse of the world order that existed before WWI. In 1955 the USA was front and center in its leadership role for the West, and the USSR was working to expand and consolidate its influence in the region. I hoped to capture the excitement and intrigue of this period of confrontation and transition as well as make the grandeur of postwar Vienna and the fading Hapsburg Empire come alive for readers.”

Bill Rapp lives in northern Virginia with his wife, two daughters, two miniature schnauzers, and a cat. Click here to find Bill online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Turnbridge pointed toward the body. “But what could this man have to do with our interests or the State Treaty, for that matter?”

Huetzing nodded again, apparently his way of acknowledging the question. “Hopefully nothing. But there is the matter of his jacket, which suggests an affiliation with the previous regime and its military forces. We also hope to identify him shortly, which should help us determine if there will indeed be complications. His jacket suggests he may have just made his way back here from the Soviet Union, and we naturally want to ensure that his departure and travels were all above board, as you say.” The Austrian sighed and glanced up and down the riverbank. “Moreover, until we know the exact circumstances of his death, it is probably best that we all keep an open mind.”

Baier and Turnbridge glanced at each other, then Baier studied the French and the Soviet officers. Both wore blank expressions, as though they had understood nothing and cared even less. Baier stepped closer to the body and found a face that appeared to be too old for active military service, although an extended period in Soviet captivity would age any man quickly. Still, Baier guessed his age as no younger than fifty. There were no other clues as to his background. The pants were made of a light-gray wool, and the shoes were of a well-worn black leather that looked as though they might have cost a fair bit when they were new. Of course, Baier had no way of knowing when that was, or if they originally belonged to this individual. The hands were rough and weathered, not surprising in one who’d performed years of hard labor in the USSR. Of course they didn’t know if the man had indeed just returned from Soviet captivity or even been a prisoner there at all. Baier sighed, wondering just what they were supposed to know this early on. Or why they should even bother. The loose cotton shirt gave even less indication of the man’s history, covered as it was with a large bloodstain over the chest.

“Oh, one other thing, gentlemen,” the Austrian Huetzing announced. “This man was not shot here. He appears to have been killed somewhere else, and then whoever committed the crime dumped the body here.” He pointed at the ground and circled the area with his index finger. “You see, there is no blood around here, and no sign of a struggle.”

“Would you be able to determine that so soon and in this light?” the Frenchman asked. Baier grinned. So, the guy did speak English.

Huetzing nodded again. “Oh, quite.” He looked upward. “The sun is already coming out, so we have been able to see well enough. And I think you will find that we are not so primitive in our investigations here. It may not be Paris, but we have done this sort of thing before.”

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