When fellow CIA operative Jake Devlin tracks Miriam Becker down in Argentina, where she is recovering from a mission that almost killed her, she is forced to push her troubled past to the back of her mind for the next mission: help a highly prized rocket scientist defect from Russian-controlled East Berlin.
Their plan goes like clockwork—until betrayal forces Jake to sacrifice himself to get Miriam out alive. Now he’s trapped behind the Iron Curtain. And Miriam is racing against time to get him and the Russian out alive—before the KGB gets to them first.
Ellen Butler recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, OPERATION BLACKBIRD.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
The setting came to me first. I knew I wanted to write a companion novel to The Brass Compass, my WWII spy novel. However, since The Brass Compass came to a conclusion at the end of the war, I realized the next novel would be taking place during the Cold War. What better location to set a Cold War novel than in the center of it —1952 Berlin, Germany? A place where the yoke of Communism is tightening the reins on an unwilling population, while across the river Spree, friends and family members are enjoying their freedom and a blossoming economy. I wanted to incorporate the collision of the two worlds that are separated by an invisible yet noticeable line. A time when tensions are rising between East and West before the erection of the Berlin Wall.
Was there anything new you discovered or that surprised you as you wrote this book?
Absolutely! I knew that the Eastern Bloc suffered from the heavy hand of Communism. What I did not realize—East Berlin became more hardline Communist than even the Soviet Union under the harsh leadership of Erich Honecker, a man who spent 10 years doing hard labor under the Nazi regime due to his Communist ideology. Post WWII, the Soviets did not want to see Germany ever rebuild its economic or military strength and did its best to strip the population of its resources. The repercussions of creating such a stark lifestyle led to a mass exodus of its population, and, contrary to the Communist party claims, walls were built to keep the population from fleeing the country rather than keeping the big bad Westerners out.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Operation Blackbird and the character Oleg Ivanov was inspired by Soviet defector Grigori Alexandrovich Tokaev. Born in Ossetia, Russia, in 1909, Tokaev grew to become a Soviet rocketry scientist and politician. Tokaev was initially an avid pro-Communist; however, he later became disillusioned and joined an opposition group that sought to remove Stalin from power. During World War II, Tokaev flew bombing raids over Stalingrad in American planes and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following the war, he was sent to Berlin as a ranking member of the Soviet Control Commission.
During his time in Berlin, Tokaev discovered a Soviet intelligence services plan to kidnap German rocket scientist Eugene Sänger, along with other leading Western scientists. Tokaev was not only concerned about the international political ramifications of the potential kidnapping plot, but he also began to fear his membership in the anti-Stalinist group would eventually be discovered and put his life and those of his family in jeopardy. He reached out to British intelligence in East Berlin. Though under constant surveillance by the NKVD (the KGB precursor), in 1947, Tokaev and his family crossed into the British sector of West Berlin, seeking asylum. Unfortunately, the full, detailed story of his escape is buried in a redacted British intelligence file.
Ellen Butler is an internationally bestselling author of historical fiction, mystery, and romance. Her spy novel The Brass Compass has won multiple awards for historical fiction including: the Indie Reader Discovery Award, a SpeakUp Talk Radio Firebird Award, and a Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal. Her fascination for historical fiction ignited when she learned her grandfather was a cryptographer during WWII. Butler is also the author of the Amazon bestselling Karina Cardinal mysteries—an amateur sleuth series which takes place in Washington, DC. In addition, Butler writes suspenseful women’s fiction and the award-winning romance series Love, California Style. When she’s not writing, Butler enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, and home decorating.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.