Ottawa writer Adrian de Hoog landed his first thriller through a Newfoundland publisher in Germany
Adrian de Hoog started writing his first novel while he was based with Canadian Foreigh Affairs in its Berlin consulate. “I found I was enjoying the process so much I thought why don’t I do this full time?” he recalls.
De Hoog retired in 2004 and his debut novel (whose title, The Berlin Assignment, confirms his obsession with that city), based on his experiences in the German capital, came out two years later. Now he is expecting his second book to appear this fall in time for the Christmas market, and the third is taking shape “up here,” tapping his brow. But not for a few months. “I need a break, I never realized how tough it was just getting started.”
His experience with The Berlin Assignment coincides with that of most first-time authors. Twelve publishers and a couple of agents taught him only that publishers acknowledge the receipt of manuscripts, even if they are accompaned by a rejection slip, and agents don’t.
As it happens he finally found a Newfoundland publisher but only through a contact in Germany, at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Breakwater Books in St. John’s normally only publishes Newfoundland writers but they were at the fair when de Hoog's friend, who was impressed by this ambitious first novel, brought it to their attention.
Clyde Rose of Breakwaster liked it too. As de Hoog puts it. “It’s just a matter of luck really, being in the right place at the right time and having something that’s a little different.”
The Berlin Assignment is not quite classic Cold War material; it’s more character-driven, more atmospheric. De Hoog mentions John Le Carre as an influence, also John Irving and Salman Rushdie. His story is about a consul assigned to Berlin (where de Hoog himself was consul-general in the late ’80s, although he insists that doesn’t make him Anthony Hanbury, his chief protagonist) shortly after the fall of The Wall.
Old tensions persist and Hanbury’s penchant for long walks and reviving old friendships from a previous stay in Berlin, make him an object of suspicion among his superiors. His diplomatic reputation among the Germans, thrives but colleagues are less impressed, discerning in him a possible “sleeper” spy.
In the end, he and his newswoman friend end up in the Stasi files where their every movement is recorded by the secret police.
Was he himself ever followed? De Hoog recalls that it happened. As a student in Germany he met and married a Berliner, his wife Regina. She had never seen the old and most historic part of her own city but as a resident had to use a different checkpoint to get there. They met in East Berlin and she warned him that she was being followed.
“They were big men and so obvious … but we never bothered to check the Stasi files later to see what they had on us.”
Despite this experience, de Hoog, a youthful-looking 60, is eloquent about his preoccupation with Berlin. He visits every year with his wife. “It is right in the middle of the history of our times — all around you can see it, it's fascinatingly complex.”
From diplomatic Berlin to the netherworld of international intelligence is a major physical leap though de Hoog’s concern with the worldwide invasion of individual privacy permeates his second novel. It has a tentative title, Borderless Deceit, and its centrepiece is an intelligence analyst who uses his connection with the CIA to investigate a woman friend on the board of a foundation which raises money for the world’s poorest children, even as it fronts for the global arms and drug trade.
“It’s not a crime novel as such and it’s a lot different from the first one,” de Hoog ack- owledges.
Meanwhile, in his Rothwell Heights home he indulges his enthusiasm for gardening with the headier pursuit of national and global activity as a busy consultant. His working knowledge — of environmental politics in Idi Amin’s Kenya, as an economic counsellor in Berlin, as an expert in nuclear proliferation for his own government and as one-time head of the Canadian Foreigh Service Institute — fuels his literary output.
With such experience he writes of what he knows and suffers the torment of his trade through 15 or so drafts of each novel, even as he fends off old colleagues who read his Assignment looking for themselves in it.
“I tell them, don’t bother, You won’t find anyone you know there.”
Once a diplomat … Noel Taylor is an Ottawa writer.