“KEEPING SECRETS from her husband, Bourke Cockran, Jr., was nothing new for Mattie McGary as she gently kissed her sleeping husband goodbye before she left for her office where she had to prepare two pieces of correspondence. One was an ‘eyes only’ letter to her godfather, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, telling him everything about her new mission, one he never would have approved had he known beforehand. The other was a letter to her husband on the same subject where she most definitely would not tell him ‘everything’. The second letter would be much more difficult to write than the first.”
–From Appointment in Prague by Michael & Kathleen McMenamin
In the novella, Appointment in Prague, one woman, a British secret agent, sets out in May 1942 to single-handedly send to hell the most evil Nazi alive — SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SD, the domestic and foreign counter-intelligence wing of the SS; second in rank only to the head of the SS himself, Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler; and the architect of “The Final Solution” that will send millions of European Jews to their doom.
When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorizes the SOE — the ‘Special Operations Executive’ — in October 1941 to assassinate Heydrich, he is unaware that the entire operation has been conceived and is being run by his Scottish goddaughter, the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Hearst photojournalist Mattie McGary. The SOE is Churchill’s own creation, one he informally describes as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and, at his suggestion, Mattie becomes one of its Deputy Directors.
Mattie has a history with Heydrich dating back to 1933 and a personal score to settle. In September 1941, when the man known variously as ‘The Blond Beast’ and ‘The Man With the Iron Heart’ — that last coming from Adolf Hitler himself — is appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, the remnants left of Czechoslovakia after the Germans had dismembered it in 1939, Mattie is determined — now that he is no longer safely within Germany’s borders — to have him killed. She recruits and trains several Czech partisans for the task and has them parachuted into Czechoslovakia in December 1941.
An increasingly impatient Mattie waits in London for word that her agents have killed the Blond Beast. By May 1942, Heydrich still lives and Mattie is furious. The mother of six-year-old twins, Mattie decides — without telling her godfather or her American husband, the #2 man in the London office of the OSS — to parachute into Czechoslovakia herself and “light a fire under their timid Czech bums”. Which she does, but her agents botch the job and Heydrich is only wounded in the attempt. The doctors sent from Berlin to care for him believe he will recover.
On the fly, Mattie conceives a new plan to kill Heydrich herself. With forged papers and other help from the highest-placed SOE asset in Nazi Germany — a former lover — Mattie determines to covertly enter Prague’s Bulovka Hospital and finish the job. After that, all she has to do is flee Prague into Germany and from there to neutral Switzerland. What Mattie doesn’t know is that Walter Schellenberg, Heydrich’s protégé and the head of Foreign Intelligence for the SD, is watching her every move.
Welcome Michael! Can we begin by having you tell us how you and Kathleen got started writing your historical fiction, Appointment in Prague? Did the movies influence you? Books?
Michael: Well, the book began life as the Epilogue (set in 1942 Prague) to our novel The Berghof Betrayal where my son Patrick was a co-author. The novel was set in 1933 Germany where the evil Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, gives our heroine Mattie McGary more than enough reason to want him dead. We eventually cut the Epilogue and found a more immediate way for Mattie to put the fear of God into Heydrich.
I hate to waste good writing, however, so I was inspired to expand it into its present novella form to provide a platform for a six chapter preview of our next Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill 1930s Adventure, The Liebold Protocol, a full length novel that will be published in October 2018 where my new co-author will be my daughter Kathleen McMenamin, who has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from NYU. I did so by adding additional scenes after Heydrich dies focused on Mattie’s capture by SS Counterintelligence as she attempts to flee to Switzerland
My initial inspiration for the Epilogue that became a novella occurred on a trip to Prague for a legal conference where I noticed a sign on the street pointing to the ‘Reinhard Heydrich Museum’. I was taken aback. A museum to Heydrich?? In Prague?? Czechs hate Heydrich!! So I had to visit the museum, which was located in the basement of a church where Czech partisans had hidden after the murder and where the Gestapo found and killed them all. So the museum is more a shrine to them than homage to Heydrich. I knew the general details of Heydrich’s assassination by agents of Britain’s Special Operations Executive [SOE] but at the museum, I learned three new things. First, the SOE agents had been in country for nearly 6 months before they finally did the deed. Second, doctors from Berlin thought Heydrich was going to survive [and he would have except for the fact that the Germans didn’t have access to penicillin]. Third, he lived for a full week after he was wounded and finally died from septicemia.
That extra week in Heydrich’s life was all I needed. Mattie McGary may have put the fear of God into Heydrich in 1933 in The Berghof Betrayal, but given what Heydrich had done to her, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to let her take her revenge as well by personally killing Heydrich in 1942. So, I envisioned what Mattie would be doing in 1942. Then I put her in the SOE, the personal creation of her godfather Winston Churchill; made her the SOE control officer over the Heydrich assassination mission; parachuted her into Czechoslovakia to find out from her agents why, after six months, Heydrich was still alive; and, when Heydrich initially survived the assassination attempt, I had her come up with a new scenario on the fly where she would gain access to the hospital and poison the bastard herself. Then, when she successfully escaped from Czechoslovakia into Germany on her way to Switzerland, I had SS Counterintelligence capture her before she reached the German-Swiss border. To go further would be a spoiler. Read the book! It’s not that long.
Did you find writing this book came natural or did you struggle sometimes?
Michael: There are always times when you struggle, but writing the 6th book in a series is always easier than the first one, especially if you are expanding something you have already written.
Can you tell us a little about the main characters of your book?
Michael: There are three main characters in Appointment in Prague which take place in 1942: Prime Minister Winston Churchill; his fictional Scottish goddaughter, Mattie McGary, Deputy Director of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) and formerly an intrepid, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Hearst media empire; and her husband, Bourke Cockran, Jr., #2 in the London Station of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
All the previous five historical thrillers featuring Mattie and Winston’s adventures, however, take place during the 1930s. Some may question casting Winston Churchill as a key character in a series of historical thrillers set during 1929–1939, his “Wilderness Years” when he was out of power, out of favor and a lone voice warning against the rising danger posed by Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. They shouldn’t. Saving Western Civilization in 1940 when England stood alone as a beacon of liberty in a sea of tyranny tends to overshadow Churchill’s earlier accomplishments.
Churchill is, in many ways, the ideal historical figure around which to craft a period thriller. He was an adventure-seeking young man, a fencing champion in prep school, a championship polo player in the army and a seaplane pilot in the early, peril-filled days of aviation in 1910. In between, he was a much-decorated war hero in bloody battles on the Afghan-Indian border, in the Sudan, and in South Africa where his commanding officer nominated him for the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honor, and where he escaped from a prisoner of war camp and made his way to freedom over hundreds of miles of enemy territory. In World War I, while other politicians, safely abed, sent millions of young men to their death, Winston was with his troops in the trenches of the bloody Ypres salient daily risking death himself.
More importantly for the series, Churchill maintained a private intelligence network in Britain and Europe during the 1930s, which often left him better informed than his own government. This fact is a catalyst for our Mattie + Winston adventures. With Churchill at the center spinning his own web, he lures both Mattie and her future husband, the American lawyer, Bourke Cockran, Jr., a former U.S. Army counter-intelligence agent into many adventures.
Winston, a romantic at heart, brought the two young people together in 1929. Romance bloomed but it was not a match made in heaven. Both characters are strong-willed individuals and their Celtic tempers frequently clashed. They met in the 1st book in 1929 where she seduced him; Mattie was seduced by a Nazi villain in the 2nd book in 1931; they became engaged in the 3rd book in 1932; and were finally married at the end of the 5th book in 1933.
Here’s how one Goodreads reviewer accurately characterized Mattie: “Mattie McGary is what every woman wants to be: strong-willed, the ability to take care of herself, and who doesn’t take crap from anyone.”
What was the hardest scene to write?
Michael: I’m not sure it was the hardest, but I had to revise it more than any other scene. It’s where the OSS Station Chief in Switzerland, the very married and notorious philanderer Allen Dulles, sneaks into Mattie’s bedroom and unsuccessfully attempts to seduce her. Mattie, whose SOE training has taught her how to kill or disable an opponent in a variety of ways, stops him cold with only two words.
“Yes, Allen? What do you want?”
“I’ve come to ask permission or forgiveness, whichever you prefer.”
“Neither, Allen, dear, and if you advance even one inch closer, you will greatly regret it. I have but two words to bring both your big head and your little head to their senses.” Mattie said and paused for a beat …
You’ll have to read the book to find out those two words.
They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point when the reader just can’t put the book down. Can you give us one of those pivotal points in your book?
Michael: Sure. Mattie has just poisoned the evil villain Reinhard Heydrich in Bulovka Hospital in Prague and is trying to get the hell out of Dodge when she runs into an overly arrogant SS officer who has other ideas. The hospital is in lockdown until they find who set off a fire alarm. By that time, Mattie fears, they will have found Heydrich’s dead body. Mattie blames the fire alarm on one of the nurses on Heydrich’s floor.
“Sascha, of course. No glass of schnapps has yet to survive an encounter with Sascha Besch. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes when our Nurse Supervisor learns of this.”
Both of the SS guards at the door laughed, but quickly stopped when the SS officer gave them a cold glance. “So why are you in such a rush to leave and where are you going?” he asked in a cold voice.
“Answer my question, Nurse Muller.”
“Back to the Hotel Steiner, of course. My fiancé Paul in the Waffen–SS is there on his last night of leave from the Eastern front as I told you earlier.”
“Well, Fraulein, I fear both you and your dear Paul will have to control your, uh, passions until we ascertain who was responsible for the false fire alarm. If it was Nurse Besch, as you say, then you won’t have long to wait.”
“Well, ‘Paul’ — that’s Obergruppenfuhrer Paul Hausser to you — who commands the II SS Panzer Corps, is not accustomed to receiving advice on romantic matters from a mere,” Mattie paused as she leaned in and looked closely at the tabs on the young officer’s tunic, “Obersturmfuhrer, but when I eventually see him tonight, I hope he will see the humor in the situation. For your sake. Anyway, once I pass on to him what a zealous officer you have been, I’m certain he will want you by his side when he returns to the Eastern front tomorrow.”
“Well…” the young officer began, but Mattie cut him off.
“Come with me, Obersturmfuhrer. What is your name please? I must find a telephone and call Paul at the Hotel Steiner and explain to him why I am delayed. He may well wish to speak with you. If he does, don’t hesitate to dispense the same romantic advice to him that you did to me.” Mattie smiled sweetly.
“Hotel Steiner? This is SS-Obersturmfuhrer Ludwig Kleist. I wish to speak with SS-General Paul Hausser.” A pause followed. “Yes, I know what time it is! This is urgent! Put me through to his room now!” A pause followed.
“Herr General,” Kleist said and repeated his title. “I am in charge of the third shift security detail for General Heydrich at the Bulovka Hospital. I have in custody a nurse named Marta Muller who claims to be your fiancée.”
Those were the last words Kleist spoke for the next two minutes, other than an occasional “Jawohl, Herr General!” as the young SS officer’s face grew progressively more flushed until Mattie feared he would have a stroke. With a final “Jawohl!” Kleist placed the receiver on the hook and turned to Mattie.
The SS officer’s face began to regain its normal color as he handed the slip of paper back to Mattie. “Fraulein, you are free to leave. I apologize for my ungentlemanly remarks a moment ago. I did not mean to offend. We are all on edge here because of our concern for the well-being of General Heydrich.”
Mattie smiled as she took the paper back. “I take it Paul was not in the best of humor? Well, it’s probably just as well that you didn’t offer him the same romantic advice you did to me. I accept your apology and your advice will remain our little secret.”
“Danke, Fraulein,” Kleist said, bowed and clicked his heels.
Will there be a follow up book to Appointment in Prague or other books in the near future?
Michael: You bet. The Liebold Protocol, a Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill 1930s Adventure will be published in October 2018. It is set mainly in Nazi Germany in the days leading up to the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ on 30 June 1934 where the SS murdered most of Hitler’s political enemies. It was written with my daughter Kathleen McMenamin. She and I are currently at work on The Prussian Memorandum, another Mattie + Winston adventure that will be published in 2019. It’s set in 1934 and tells the true story about the legislative process in Germany that led to the 1935 Nuremberg laws making German Jews second-class citizens and forbidding their marriage to Aryans. The Nazis used American state legislation and case law re racial miscegenation and second-class citizenship in the U.S. — what the Germans called ‘The Prussian Memorandum’ — as models to do the same to Germany’s Jews. Neither the Americans nor the Nazis want this made public. Any journalist — like Mattie McGary — who attempts to do so will be placed in peril. But Mattie — who senses another Pulitzer Prize — is “strong-willed, [has] the ability to take care of herself, and … doesn’t take crap from anyone.” We’re not there yet, but my money is on Mattie.