The Hapsburg Variation
This is set in the 1950s, the Cold War era, in Vienna. The Hapsburg Variation is the second book in a series about CIA agent Karl Baier (Tears of Innocence was the first). Bill Rapp, the author, has the proper resume—many spooky years with the agency—to write such a story. At this time, four Allied Powers are just about to sign the State Treaty, which will return Austria’s independence and end the post-war occupation. The story begins with a dead body, as all proper thrillers do. The Iron Curtain is going up, and this is a spy vs. spy vs. spy situation, with the British, American, French, Soviets, and Germans involved. Fortunately, the author has the playbook, as does his hero, a tough operative with a German war wife. She’s another cool customer, who also played “the great game.”
The beginning to the middle of the story is an engaging read—lots of tasty Third Man flashbacks–and then things began to bog down with one too many mysterious bouts of verbal fencing, which I sometimes had difficulty following. Perhaps the author was in a bit of a hurry to finish this one, because, for me, the denouement felt flat. Nevertheless, 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.