Friday, October 30, 2020

Marko and Me - Otho Eskin reflects on his character...

ANNOUNCING THE WINNER of Barbara Ross's JANE DARROWFIELD AND THE MAD WOMAN NEXT DOOR: Congratulations Kathy Reel! Kathy, email Barbara at barbaraross@maineclambakemysteries.com to collect your prize.

 HALLIE EPHRON: Otho Eskin, author of THE REFLECTING POOL, brings to his thriller past experience an attorney, a diplomat, as well as serving in the US Army and in the US Foreign Service in Washington and around the world.

Like the rest of us, right now he's grounded, but his new book takes readers to the places he's been, telling a tale of international intrigue with stakes that couldn't be higher.

I'm happy to welcome and the protagonist if his two thrillers, Marko Zorn, to to Jungle Red!

OTHO ESKIN: Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel widely but due to the pandemic, recently I've become an armchair traveler. Now I spend my time writing, an activity I love, and I especially enjoy the company of Marko Zorn, the protagonist of my two thrillers (The Reflecting Pool and Headshot). Marko Zorn is a top Washington, DC
homicide detective with expensive tastes in classic cars, art, and the company of beautiful women, that far exceed his cop’s salary. He must take on extra work that is not always strictly legal and is usually dangerous in order to supplement his income. This requires his special combination of skill and steel nerves. 

I get a vicarious pleasure from his adventures— activities that, in reality, I would not be able to manage myself.

Washington DC, my home for more than 50 years, seemed the perfect place for Marko Zorn’s adventures. It’s a city I know well, both the familiar DC federal buildings, monuments and museums but also the criminal side of the city. Some of the book’s most important scenes take place in its well-known public landmarks, such as the White House.

The body of a young secret service agent is found in The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Marko investigates her death and this puts his life at risk.

Marko also knows the side of Washington of gangs, drugs, murder and violence. Motivated by revenge, greed and a lust for power, individuals from every strata of Washington society, from drug dealers to the top reaches of Government, commit crimes that Marko must solve.


Readers have asked me where I came up with the character of Marko Zorn. A central purpose in writing The Reflecting Pool was to create an interesting character who is different—an unconventional and original cop. Some of the things he does are close to being illegal but he has a strong moral sense and never does anything that violates his moral standards. Marko does not believe in rules or authority. He is a totally cool character, and is never rattled. 


That’s not true for me. If I were confronted by someone with a gun or in a very dangerous situation I’m pretty sure I would panic.

When I retired from my career in the Foreign Service, I had no plans to write novels. I turned my energies first to writing plays, many of which have been performed in professional theaters in DC, NY and abroad. Finally, I decided I wanted to write thrillers.

In a sense, my career, first as an attorney, then as a diplomat and then as a playwright, gave me the background for thriller writing.

During my the three years posted at the US Embassy in East Berlin during the cold war, I witnessed intrigue and the abuse of power. During my time there, I was listed as a CIA spy in a directory issued by the German secret police (the Stasi) and I certainly wasn’t a spy. This was disinformation intended to compromise my work and that of other Foreign Service officers who were also included in the directory.

Political corruption has always repelled me, but it makes for exciting reading in a work of fiction so I have used it in The Reflecting Pool as part of the intersecting plots that put Marko’s life at risk.

When I developed Marko’s character, I was influenced to some degree by my favorite British mystery and espionage novels such as John Le Carr√©’s spy novels featuring George Smiley. Smiley is a career intelligence officer with the British overseas intelligence Service. An undistinguished looking person, he blends in and does not attract attention. He doesn’t do thrilling, violent acts and he doesn’t carry a gun. When confronted by traitors and vicious opponents, he is able to defeat them by cunning.

Marko has these same skills. He also doesn’t carry a gun and he outsmarts the villains through his superior brain power. But Marko has some distinctive traits that are different from George Smiley. He is brash and can be offensive if irritated. He is not afraid of violence and tries to avoid it. But when violent action is required he can be exceptionally aggressive in ingenious ways sometimes causing the violent deaths of his opponents.

Although he is adept at navigating the corridors of law enforcement and the criminal world, he'd prefer to stay home and watch old movies, enjoy his art collection, and listen to cool jazz. I can certainly relate to these interests. Marko likes designer clothes and wears a Brioni tuxedo in an important scene in The Reflecting Pool. I used to wear tuxedos to embassy receptions but now prefer jeans. I’ve been told I have a good sense of humor, but Marko’s is more sardonic and often gets him into trouble.

Marko Zorn and I are both fans of classic roadsters. He drives a Jaguar in racing green and, for a while, I drove a classic silver 1971 Mercedes Benz convertible. I don’t drive the Mercedes anymore but I miss it. Marko is also a passionate art collector but must keep his works of art in a special room in his house where outsiders can't view them because they would know he has an income that far exceeds a cop’s salary. I am also a fan of art but I let Marko buy expensive pieces than I could never afford.

While Marko and I may have similar hobbies, the similarities stop there. As they say, opposites attract.

When my children read my book, they told me they can hear my voice in the dialogue. Marko comes alive through the vicarious adventures of my mind. He does things I would never dream of doing in real life. Despite our differences I find him very relatable. I understand him and root for almost everything he does though I don’t always approve of how he does it. And there is no limit to what he can do in my imagination.

HALLIE: Reading Otho talk about Marko, I have to say I'm thinking more of James Bond than John Le Carr
é's George Smiley. But since we're talking spy novels today with a man who may (or may not!) have been one, what other fictional spy characters have you cherished over the years, and is there anything you've always wanted to know about spycraft?

51 comments:

  1. I can’t say that I’ve read a lot of spy stories, but I’ve enjoyed George Smiley’s adventures . . . now I’m looking forward to reading “The Reflecting Pool” and meeting Marko Zorn.

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    1. Smiley had quite the adventures. I hope you enjoy Marko's at least half as much.

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    2. I very much enjoy George Smiley as well – his unobtrusive presence and his ability to out think his opponents appeals to me. Marko Zorn is no spy – certainly not in a conventional sense – but he shares many of the characteristics and skills of spies- the ability, when he has to, to disappear into the background. Unlike George Smiley, Marko Zorn is prepared, much against his better instincts, to use violence when that is what is needed. I trust you will not be disappointed in Marko Zorn as he faces, and disposes, of the evil forces ranged against him.
      Otho

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  2. Like Joan, I haven’t read many spy stories, but I have enjoyed the James Bond movies. However, since Marko is a cop that takes on some interesting and dangerous extra work, I think I would love to read your book, Otho. And, the D.C. setting really appeals to me. My husband was stationed at the Pentagon for 2 1/2 years, and although I didn’t move there with him (son wanted to finish high school with his FB), I visited often and tried to explore something new each trip.

    I’m thrilled to have won Barb’s book and will contact her.

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    1. I agree, Kathy - the DC setting is so appealing.

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    2. You should visit Washington again, Kathy! It’s well worth a trip or two. It’s been my hometown for more years than I care to remember. This is where I spent much of my professional career with the State Department and where, these days, I do my writing. I live across the street from FBI Headquarters and from the Department of Justice. I can see the Capitol building from my balcony. It’s a glorious sight, particularly at night when it is all lit up. Maybe reading The Reflecting Pool will encourage you to make a return visit. In the meantime allow Marko Zorn to be your virtual tour guide. You will be safe with him.
      Otho

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  3. I've visited DC only once and always enjoy a trip back in a book. I'm glad to be introduced to Marko Zorn.

    I've read quite a lot of books about the French Resistance in WWII and I always wonder if I would have the courage to do that kind of stealth work, sort of like spycraft. I'd like to think so...

    And I have to say this morning a BIG thank you to Hank for the fun experience in The Back Room yesterday evening. It's a great concept -- four authors and four break-out rooms for real conversation with the writers. I loved 'meeting' Julia that way, and also Paula Munier, Brian Andrews and William Kent Kruger. It's the next best thing -- in COVID times -- to being at a live event. I'd give it a starred review!

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    1. Oh, how wonderful! So thrilled that you were there! I wish we had gotten to talk… How did that happen? Sign up for another one, and I will make sure we are in the same breakout room. Xxxxxxx bksp.org. And Debs was in the audience too, which is so fantastic! Can’t wait to have the other reds as guests!

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    2. Yes, yes, that's right: Debs, too! And also other commenters. I got to 'meet' danielle-momo, who was in my same break-out room. So fun!

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    3. Celia was there, too! I waved before the breakout rooms opened...

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    4. I was very pleased to see you in my group Amanda.
      And Hank, the back room is a fantastic idea.

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    5. It was great fun. I was in the room with Celia and Margaret. I caught a glimpse of Deb. I would have loved to meet more of the JRW bloggers. Next time!

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    6. Hank, it was huge fun last night! What a great idea! It was fun to wave at Amanda, Danielle, Judy, Margaret, and Celia, even if we weren't in the same breakout room. Julia, you were great!

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    7. I signed up for the next one, yesterday's was during work. Can't wait.

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    8. OH, YAY, Deana! SO excited. NOV 15: Lucy Burdette, Jennifer J. Chow, Alexia Gordon, and Jenn McKinlay with host Hank Phillippi Ryan. SO great!

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    9. Amanda, I hope your one-time trip to Washington was a pleasant one. Washington can be a wonderful place to visit. Not only does it have great museums and monuments but most of them are free. There is another side of Washington, of course, the city of crime and drugs and violence that my protagonist knows all too sell. You’re better off skipping that part of town. The tour busses usually avoid those sections of town any way. Marko looks forward to being introduced. Those involved in spy work are rarely in any serious danger these days. There is an accepted protocol among intelligence agencies not to harm one another’s spies. Sometimes this goes horribly wrong. It depends on the country. I wouldn’t recommend anyone carrying out espionage in Iran, for example. And the French Resistance was another matter. That was war.
      Otho

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  4. I lived in the Washington DC area for several years in the late 1970s. At the time, the city was still feeling the effects of Watergate. It was an interesting time. I have long enjoyed spy novels, among them the Smiley series and the Bond books. One book that I read that was an eyeopener was Peter Wright's Spycatcher. It is a supposedly true account.

    I'm looking forward to visiting DC again with Marko Zorn. It's been a while.

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    1. By all means, Kait, make a return visit. And let Marko Zorn be your guide. We’ve pretty much gotten over Watergate. There’s been plenty of excitement since.
      Otho

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  5. George Smiley, of course! Congratulations on your new release. We usually go to DC for Thanksgiving with our kids. This year, I'll enjoy your book instead.

    Great zoom gathering last night!

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    1. A little virtual travel... and it sounds like Otho knows his way around DC, and then some.

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    2. Thank you, dear MArgaret! Come again..and let's make sure all the reds get into the same breakout room! put "VIP pass JUNGLE RED sent me" in the registration--and I will make it happen! xxx

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    3. Thank you, Margaret. I hope Marko will be able to help fill that travel void.

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  6. It's not really a "spy" novel, but I love THE NIGHT MANAGER and the TV adaptation with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston was amazing.

    Love the Benz. :)

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    1. I haven't watched that one. Thank you for the recommendation, Liz; I'll look it up. And thank you, it was a beautiful car.

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  7. Oh, my father was in the foreign service! And was posted in Hamburg from 1967 through 1975– I wonder if you ever crossed paths. My college age self thought he was a spy, too, but now I know that is laughable.
    My favorite spy books? Oh, so many. The Charm School. Day of the Jackal . (does that count?) Eye of the Needle. Alex Berenson’s The Faithful Spy.

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    1. I don’t think I met your father. My loss. I think you and I did meet very briefly at a Thriller Fest in New York some years ago. I hope once this plague has passed we will all have the opportunity meet once again at some similar event and exchange tips and gossip. I think my kids thought I was a spy when we were stationed in East Berlin during the cold war. (Note: I wasn’t). They probably thought it was cool.
      Otho

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  8. I used to work for a congressman in D.C., and a friend and I decided that we would write a thriller set on Capitol Hill. We were choreographing a chase scene in the underground garages of the House Office Buildings and ended getting stuck in a freight elevator - it was after hours and pretty frightening at the time. I enjoyed your post and look forward to revisiting D.C. with Marko Zorn ~

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    1. Oh, so great to see you last night, Celia! When were you in Washington? I worked on Capitol Hill from 1971 to 73… Were you there?

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    2. Celia, I too have been trapped in elevators. Not so grand as the House Office Building. More like a parking garage. I hope you haven’t given up your thriller for good, just because of a bad elevator ride. By all means make a return visit to Washington. Stay away from elevators, though. And for a virtual tour, Marko Zorn would be happy to show you around. Otho

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  9. I've been looking for something different--thriller-esque--to read. Marko Zorn just might fill that need! Thanks, JRW!

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    1. This one definitely checks that "thriller-esque" box. Hope you enjoy it!

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  10. Congrats, Otho! Funnily enough, I've included a (fictional) former British agent in my upcoming Cambridge Bookshop Series. He's 70+ and still buff. Now runs a bookshop specializing in the espionage and military genres. Sir Jon is a good man to have on your team, as my MC soon learns.

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    1. Thank you very much, Liz! Sir Jon sounds like an interesting guy. Running a bookshop in retirement sounds relaxing, though it sounds like he won't be enjoying much bookish peace as a former British agent who's also a protagonist. Protagonists never get to relax it seems!

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  11. This sounds fabulous, Otho! Congratulations. I love a good beltway suspense tale.

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    1. Jenn, I remember when I lived in DC that it was called the Beltway.

      Diana

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    2. Thank you, Jenn. It's a great setting for suspense and thriller novels.

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  12. Great post! Yes! I thought of James Bond because of the cars. LOL.

    Question: Were the East German secret police also former Nazis or children of Nazi party members during the War?

    Diana

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    1. The East German secret police (Stasi) were almost certainly not former Nazis although very likely members were children of Nazis. The Communist Party that ran the outfit in my day would not have tolerated their presence. Certainly their Soviet masters would not have. It didn’t make much of a difference, though. They were all cut from the same cloth. If you can believe it, the Stasi were probably more effective and dangerous, than the Gestapo. Otho

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  13. Your character loving classic cars and beautiful women made me think of Dirk Pitt! It's been a while since I've read a good spy book. I really enjoyed the Bernard Samson character in Len Deighton's books eons ago. I've read some of Nelson DeMille, Graham Greene, Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins. All "classics." I think I need to read about Marko Zorn!

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    1. Pat,
      I'd forgotten all about Len Deighton until you mentioned him. A great Berlin story teller. I hope you enjoy Marko Zorn as well.

      Otho

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  15. I do read spy novels and Marko Zorn sounds like a very interesting character, so right onto my TBR list.

    Daniel Silva's Mosad agent, Gabriel Allon books are fabulous. At one point I was reading them one after another, but I got side-tracked by other authors. I gave one to Irwin and he read it but decided that they hit too close to home for him, anxiety-wise.

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    1. Judy, I've never read the Daniel Silvas. Will put on my list!

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    2. I like to think Marko Zorn is an interesting character. I have tried to make him unique and memorable. I very much like Daniel Silva’s work, too. Good company.
      Otho

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  16. Otho, your book sounds fascinating. I love DC and would really enjoy a good spy story.

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    1. Deborah,

      I love DC as well, at least some of it. I hope you enjoy Marko and his world.

      Otho

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  17. I like Robert Renwick from the Helen McInnis series. I enjoyed all of the books I read by her. Now I need to check out the Washington scene.

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    1. Deana, by all means check out the Washington scene. Detective Marko Zorn would be happy to show you around. And it is all quite safe from the comfort of your home.
      Otho

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