Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sarin Gas Attack Stirs Memories

By Chester Campbell

In Dr. Doug Lyle's The Writers Forensics Blog last Saturday, he wrote about the terrorist attack in a Tokyo subway on that date (March 20) in 1995 using sarin gas. It was headline news fifteen years ago as the first case of a CBW (chemical and biological warfare) agent being used in a major city.

The blog brought back memories for me of what might have been. I started writing end-of-Cold-War spy thrillers when I retired. I finished the first one in 1990, the second in 1991, and the third in 1992. Book three brought me a contract with a well-known New York agency. It was the last of a trilogy featuring Burke Hill, a former FBI agent who runs an international PR agency that's a CIA front.

In this book, which has the working title Overture to Disaster, Burke doesn't appear until midway through the plot. It starts out in the Ukraine just before the demise of the Soviet Union. A group of KGB officers steal several mortar shells filled with nerve gas from an army unit, killing a young army captain from Minsk.

At about the same time, a USAF special operations mission to extract a defector from Iran goes bad and the helicopter pilot is falsely accused of responsibility. He is court-martialed and discharged.

The story picks up a couple of years later with the murdered captain's brother, a chief investigator with the police in Minsk, the Belarus capital. He uncovers a plot by the ousted KGB officers to organize dissidents in the new Commonwealth of Independent States, a move designed to usher in a new Soviet-type state. Knowing the U.S. is committed to supporting the independence of the former Soviet republics, the plotters plan a diversion to keep the Americans occupied at home.

A team of Shining Path guerillas is trained in Mexico, where the former Air Force helicopter pilot now lives. This is where Burke Hill joins the story. It all winds up on the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., where the nerve-gas shells make their appearance.

The agency let the manuscript gather dust on the shelf for a couple of years. When it finally went out, a Tor-Forge editor liked the story but said it was dated. What makes it so sad is that if they had found a publisher early on, the book would have come out about the time of the Tokyo subway incident Dr. Lyle wrote about. With that hook, the book could have really taken off.

Maybe (probably) I'm dreaming, but it just goes to show how the luck of timing enters into this peculiar business. I pulled up the the manuscript today (I still have all my old unpublished stories in the computer) and I still think it's a great story. I think I'll do a little revising and try it again.

Maybe my luck will change this time around. And the title? It refers to the 1812 Overture played by the National Symphony on The Mall behind the Capitol at the climax of the Fourth of July celebration. Makes for a rousing finish.

Chester Campbell's Website


Sheila Deeth said...

Maybe the luck will balance out this time.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Sounds like a fascinating story, Chester. I'd certainly like to read it. :) Best of luck the second time around.