In the following email interview, writer Howard Kaplan discusses his new political espionage thriller To Destroy Jerusalem (paperback, Kindle), the third in his loosely-connected series of stand-alone spy novels that also includes Bullets Of Palestine and The Spy’s Gamble.
To start, what isTo Destroy Jerusalem about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to its semi-prequel Bullets Of Palestine and its semi-sequel,The Spy’s Gamble?
Semi-sequel might be the perfect description. All three books are stand-alone storiess with completely different stories spanning a breadth of time, yet all have the same main characters: Shai Shaham, an Israeli intelligence officer, and adversary Ramzy Awwad, a former PLO intelligence officer and one of the great writers of his people. Theirs is a struggle that mirrors the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can they trust each other? Can they work for a common cause and what happens when they are on opposite sides of a catastrophic threat as they are in To Destroy Jerusalem. Can their friendship be a metaphor for hope and possibility? Bullets Of Palestine is set in 1987, To Destroy Jerusalem in 1990, and The Spy’s Gamble in 2016, but they can be read in any order.
When did you first get the idea for To Destroy Jerusalem and did that idea evolve much as you were writing it?
I visited Israel in 1989 during the first Palestinian intifada [uprising]. I was taken by how widespread and comprehensive it was — strikes committees, shops uniformly shut on strike days across the West Bank — and I thought about a novel about what would happen if the intifada was unsuccessful in achieving a Palestinian state. As happened.
To Destroy Jerusalem is obviously a political espionage thriller, but are there any other genres at work in the story as well?
It’s my longest novel by a good deal and has the largest landscape of characters. So there is a real effort, a major effort, to have this be a novel of characterization in addition to it being a thriller. It also has a Christian Evangelical subplot. When teaching writing at UCLA Extension I had an evangelical student who had Bible verses on his business card. We had lunch several times and that was highly helpful.
I also have to ask: Was there ever any thought to changing the title? Because it is a pretty provocative one.
The working title was The Eleventh Plague, which my literary agent and a close confidant in Jerusalem liked better. My son, with whom I’m very close, who’s twenty-five and works in Legal Aid in Queens, he argued vehemently for the current title. He said his generation would yawn atThe Eleventh Plague, the idea being the nuclear threat. He won.
So are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on To Destroy Jerusalem but not on Bullets Of Palestine?
John le Carre and Charles McCarry, a lesser known American thriller writer, have always been my go tos, along with Graham Greene. It’s because I’m interested greatly in the characters as they are and not only an exciting plot.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of those have a big impact on To Destroy Jerusalem?
Not really, I think I pretty much do things my way. I’ve been at it for a long time now. My father, who will be 100 this month, is also pretty stubborn, plays bridge five times a week, so I think I learned some of that.
I love the film. It’s also available for rental and video on demand in all the usual places. It’s Sir John Hurt’s last film. There are some changes from the novel, some I wouldn’t have made and people tell me the novel is clearer. It’s often the case as it was with the Gary Oldman version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. It stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is a force both on and off-screen. I was in Casablanca for ten days of the two month shoot and went out every day with the crew. It’s a $5 million-dollar low-budget film that looks like it cost $25 million. It’s a real achievement. It will be on Hulu beginning November 21.
Cool. So has there been any interest in adapting any of your other novels, including To Destroy Jerusalem, into a movie?
I’m forever hopeful. I’m having coffee today with a woman who is friends with one of the big buyers at Amazon.
If To Destroy Jerusalem was made into a movie, it would probably come after the movie version of Bullets Of Palestine. Who would you like to see star in the movie versions of those books and why them?
I have no idea. If you asked me this before The Damascus Cover was filmed I wouldn’t have had the audacity to imagine John Hurt as head of the Mossad. So I leave it to the film makers they seem to have a bigger imagination in that arena than me.
Finally, if someone enjoys To Destroy Jerusalem, and they’ve already read The Damascus Cover, Bullets Of Palestine, and The Spy’s Gamble, what political espionage thriller of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Charles McCarry is still alive in his 80s and publishing. I’d read his Paul Christopher novels starting with The Tears Of Autumn about the JFK assassination.