KJ Howe: To spy or not to spy—that was the question Otho Eskin was asked given his illustrious foreign service career. Delve into the fascinating history that led Otho to pen his latest thriller, HEAD SHOT. And decide for yourself what his real backstory was…
She Married a Spy
By Otho Eskin
After retiring in 1986 after twenty-some years in the US Foreign Service, I chose a new career— writing. Around 1991 I began writing plays but at one point decided to explore a different course, and I joined a local screenplay writing class. This had at least one very happy consequence. I met my wife, Therese, in the class. She wrote a screenplay about a trip through Greece. It seemed quite good to me, but maybe I was biased. I can’t remember what my screenplay was about which probably tells you something about the quality of my work. I don’t believe any award-winning genre-defining movies ever came out of that class although I’m certain some members of the class doubtless silently composed acceptance speeches in their heads for the Academy Awards.
At the time, Therese was working professionally in radio broadcasting. She had been an audio engineer and worked as a sound technician. She also produced her own cultural affairs program on which she interviewed high-profile artists, usually actors in town for productions at the Kennedy Center, including such luminaries as Tennessee Williams and James Mason.
Eventually, our relationship became serious, and marriage was on the horizon. The fact that I was a divorced father of four was not a problem. But some of Therese’s (women) friends warned her that I might not be the innocent former Foreign Service officer I claimed to be but was, instead, a CIA spy! I assured her, truthfully, that I was no such thing. I’m not sure she believed me. My designation when serving in embassies abroad had been “political officer” which was widely believed to be a cover for CIA spy.
I certainly didn’t look like a spy, but who does? I didn’t in the least resemble Sean Connery, although my fondness for dry martinis might have been grounds for suspicion. But in those days, everybody drank dry martinis. I suspect the fact that I vehemently denied being a spy just proved that I was one. Of course, spies lie. That’s what spies do.
From 1977 to 1979 I had been assigned to the US embassy in East Berlin, In an effort to impede the work of Foreign Service officers, the East German secret police published a book titled Who’s Who in CIA. I was among the many listed. As far as I know, Therese’s friends were unaware of this fact when they warned her about me. Who knows how they would have advised her had they known?
It was the practice in those days, and probably still is, for CIA employees to deny they work for the Agency. So denial meant little or nothing. It was something of a Washington parlor guessing game: “who’s the spook”? I assume that many a mild-mannered bureaucrat, possibly working for some dangerous and nefarious, super-secret agency like the Small Business Administration, tried to pick up girls in dark bars by passing themselves off as CIA agents.
Eventually I suppose Therese decided she didn’t care who I was and agreed to marry me anyway, despite her friends’ misgivings. By that time (1996), I’d written a few plays that were produced at professional DC theaters, and would go on to have several more productions in DC, NYC and abroad. The artsy theater crowd didn’t distinguish among government agencies or care whether I was a CIA agent or not. In their view US government employees were all always guilty of something; if not the Vietnam War, then some other sin like in the inner-city crime or overfishing salmon.
I made up for the (lack of) intrigue Therese’s friends erroneously attributed to my career by writing my two thriller novels, The Reflecting Pool, and the forthcoming Head Shot (releasing 12/7/21). Needless to say, my years in the Foreign Service and my time posted in Syria, Yugoslavia and Cold War East Berlin have greatly influenced my writing.
My protagonist, DC homicide detective Marko Zorn, does things I would never dream of doing in real life. And sometimes I don’t approve of how he does them though the consequences are on the side of justice. Nonetheless, I relate to him and take great vicarious pleasure from his exploits and cunning mind.
Thanks to Marko, I get exposed to far more intrigue, danger and high-profile crimes sometimes leading to the highest corridors of power, than I would if I had been a real spy. In any case, I don’t have the personality for such a high risk job. Therese is now convinced that I never was a spy.
HEAD SHOT coming December 7, now available for pre-order:
Old loves die hard in Otho Eskin’s second Marko Zorn novel, HEAD SHOT. D.C. homicide detective Marko Zorn is leading the investigation of the onstage murder of an actress he once loved when he is assigned to protect Nina Voychek, the visiting prime minister of Montenegro.
Zorn discovers a surprising additional target while he’s shielding Voychek from her political enemies—himself. As he foils attempts on his life, he pulls out all stops and deploys his nefarious resources to hunt whoever is targeting him and prevent an international tragedy on American soil.
It’s a pulse-pounding race to find his attacker as Zorn and his tentative young partner, Lucy Tanaka, contend with decoded messages, Supermax prisoner interviews, mafia lawyers and an ancient Black Mountain curse.
And as they navigate D.C. and confront growing danger, they must solve the deadliest puzzle of all—are they facing multiple hired guns with diverging agendas, or just the world’s most lethal and elusive contract killer?
I love learning about this author’s background (spy or not?) It reminds me of how the espionage experiences of a couple of other great writers such as Jason Matthews and Charles McCarry led to their writing intriguing thrillers as well. Now I can’t wait to read HEAD SHOT – sure to be a bestseller. So glad to know about it!!
Kudos to Therese for taking a chance on a maybe-spy!