Foreign Service Tales

Foreign Service Tales

5.0 1
by William S. Shepard
     
 

Editorial Reviews

William Shepard, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer now living in Oxford, has now followed his crime novel, Vintage Murder, and his memoir, Consular Tales - both published last year - with the collection of 20 fictional short stories under review today, Foreign Service Tales. All three books are based on Shepard's experience as a diplomat abroad and, to a lesser extent, on his experience as a one-time Republican candidate for Governor of Maryland. And all three are smoothly written and readable, but my favorite is this new one.

Why? Partly because it presents a persuasively realistic picture of the life of Foreign Service employees; and partly because it incorporates some fiction. As Shepard explains in his preface to Foreign Service Tales: "... I decided that these stories should revolve around the typical personnel of an American Embassy overseas. Within that context, other themes could be played out, including those lasting favorites [and foundations of fiction], love, murder, jealousy and extortion."

The first story in the collection, "Who Stole the Treaty of Paris Desk," is one of the shortest (and therefore, to my taste, one of the best) crime stories I've ever read. The historic desk on which the treaty that ended the American Revolution was signed is missing from its usual place at State Department headquarters, and a fictitious young Foreign Service officer named Robbie Cutler (who was also the hero of Shepard's crime novel) figures out who stole it and where it is in a few hours.

Other tales involve subtle variations on love and friendship and related states of mind. E.g.: In "Twenty Years After," a Deputy Chief of Mission has a reunion with his French diplomatic counterpart, a woman with whom he had an intense (and adulterous) love affair when they were both posted in Athens 20 years earlier. He had never told her he was married, but discovers she had never expected him to and didn't care.

And e.g.: In "Control Officer," an Embassy Vice Consul reminsces about his mobile childhood as the son of a Foreign Service officer. "He had been, he said, a Foreign Service Brat, and had spent as much time outside the United States as in Washington - kindergarten in Singapore, elementary school in Budapest, where Dad had been Economic Officer at the Embassy, and then high school in Ankara." He already spoke three foreign languages - colloquial Turkish, Hungarian and German.

And one more e.g.: In "The Extra," another Foreign Service officer, this one retired and living in northern Virginia, relates how he drives to D.C. early on mornings he's hired as an extra in the movie scenes about diplomatic receptions, notably one in a film called "Affairs of State" that starred Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. He says he enjoys it, but does describe the way movie crowd scenes are shot - repeatedly and often for hours on end - as a tedious hurry-up-and-wait procedure.

The Foreign Service is as old as the Republic and as Shepard describes it, probably the most elite and glamorous of all federal agencies. He makes it pretty clear, too, that some of its more ambitious employees consider their careers more important than their families.

The Star Democrat online

William Shepard, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer now living in Oxford, has now followed his crime novel, Vintage Murder, and his memoir, Consular Tales - both published last year - with the collection of 20 fictional short stories under review today, Foreign Service Tales. All three books are based on Shepard's experience as a diplomat abroad and, to a lesser extent, on his experience as a one-time Republican candidate for Governor of Maryland. And all three are smoothly written and readable, but my favorite is this new one.

Why? Partly because it presents a persuasively realistic picture of the life of Foreign Service employees; and partly because it incorporates some fiction. As Shepard explains in his preface to Foreign Service Tales: "... I decided that these stories should revolve around the typical personnel of an American Embassy overseas. Within that context, other themes could be played out, including those lasting favorites [and foundations of fiction], love, murder, jealousy and extortion."

The first story in the collection, "Who Stole the Treaty of Paris Desk," is one of the shortest (and therefore, to my taste, one of the best) crime stories I've ever read. The historic desk on which the treaty that ended the American Revolution was signed is missing from its usual place at State Department headquarters, and a fictitious young Foreign Service officer named Robbie Cutler (who was also the hero of Shepard's crime novel) figures out who stole it and where it is in a few hours.

Other tales involve subtle variations on love and friendship and related states of mind. E.g.: In "Twenty Years After," a Deputy Chief of Mission has a reunion with his French diplomatic counterpart, a woman with whom he had an intense (and adulterous) love affair when they were both posted in Athens 20 years earlier. He had never told her he was married, but discovers she had never expected him to and didn't care.

And e.g.: In "Control Officer," an Embassy Vice Consul reminsces about his mobile childhood as the son of a Foreign Service officer. "He had been, he said, a Foreign Service Brat, and had spent as much time outside the United States as in Washington - kindergarten in Singapore, elementary school in Budapest, where Dad had been Economic Officer at the Embassy, and then high school in Ankara." He already spoke three foreign languages - colloquial Turkish, Hungarian and German.

And one more e.g.: In "The Extra," another Foreign Service officer, this one retired and living in northern Virginia, relates how he drives to D.C. early on mornings he's hired as an extra in the movie scenes about diplomatic receptions, notably one in a film called "Affairs of State" that starred Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. He says he enjoys it, but does describe the way movie crowd scenes are shot - repeatedly and often for hours on end - as a tedious hurry-up-and-wait procedure.

The Foreign Service is as old as the Republic and as Shepard describes it, probably the most elite and glamorous of all federal agencies. He makes it pretty clear, too, that some of its more ambitious employees consider their careers more important than their families.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781401036270
Publisher:
Xlibris Corporation
Publication date:
10/28/2002
Pages:
183
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.42(d)

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Foreign Service Tales 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Retired diplomats, prime ministers, politicians and generals turned writers produce in their golden years credible pieces of literature. While their works generally focus on history, biography, politics, diplomacy and war, many write notable novels, stories, fiction and mystery. William S. Shepard, a retired senior diplomat and member of the American Foreign Service, earned his place in the last category of authors by publishing the second volume of stories close to his heart about the light and hilarious, as well the dark side of life of American diplomats serving their country abroad. And Shepard has a lot of fascinated experience to write from, having served in many countries in Europe and Asia. His first collection, entitled The Consular Tales, was published last year. The present anthology gives us twenty enchanting stories with intricately developed plots which are drawing not only upon the best, honest and most endearing aspects of human nature but also upon professional jealousy, greed, envy and its other less attractive sides. They are told with vigor, imagination and superb sense for drama, suspense and timing. Here the author displays an array of literary ploys to achieve his desired effect with the skill and imagination of a seasoned novelist. He is best at giving a detailed description of real, plausible and imaginary circumstance and events which give his stories not only credibility but also dispense high drama to fire curiosity, imagination and suspense of his readers. The story "The Old Master" amply displays all these ploys of the writer's art, who himself appears as Consul Gene Cranton. In a complicated yet intriguing plot an imposter, Anton Svoboda, claims that he is the legitimate owner of the Odalisque Rouge, a painting by Matisse, which he had spotted hanging on the wall in the residence of the American Ambassador Sulliwan in Budapest during his visit of the embassy. And given the writer's penchant for suspense and high drama the question of the ownership of this painting is not resolved until the very last page of this long story. Here a classical ploy is resorted to by introducing an entirely new character into the closing the scene of the plot, who resolves the ownership in favor of the Ambassador. And even Consul Craton is caught surprised. While his gift of intuition in judging character of people appears unerring in other stories of the anthology, he had misjudged Anton's character during his earlier encounter with in his office. This is how the mighty fall sometimes. It is not surprising that one story of the anthology, the "Little Brown Jug", a title inspired by the Glenn Miller swing tune, won the Second Prize in Marry Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine Contest in 2000. Here Larry Carter, a jealous Economic Counselor at an embassy, picks an antique and fine- glazed jug for baking beans, as a send-off gift for the Deputy Chief of the Mission Trip Holland, to mark his promotion to the ambassadorial rank. Trip Holland, a New Englander, loves the Boston backed beans so much, and Shepard even gives a complete and true recipe for this tantalizing dish, that he lets the cook at his ambassadorial post in Brussels serve it to him at all times until he dies shortly after assuming the office. Carter's little brown jug was his ultimate revenge, as its fine glazing, lead based in the old days, was heavily toxic. This, and the receipt for the heavenly baked Boston beans, are the only true facts of this marvelous story. Shepard writes not only for pleasure and to entertain a general reader with his stories of glamorous parties, receptions and other perks of diplomatic life, like tax free champaign, caviar and scotch. He also writes to inspire a new generation of young Americans, as a fire-tested old hand who had been "there", to join the Foreign Service for other goodies in that basket as well, like the drama, the adventure and the thrill of its all, so well lived through, enjoyed and depicted by him.