|HOCHSTETTER GETS THE DROP ON THE KILLER, IN MAJOR HOCHSTETTER, GESTAPO|
Before I get too far ahead, though, a little background. I've always been interested in what Paul Harvey called "the rest of the story" - in other words, after the happy ending, what happens to the rest of the characters? For example, we know the star of the show always gets the girl in the end, but what happens to his romantic rival - Peter Lawford in Easter Parade, for instance? He's often quite charming himself, but through no fault of his own (except, perhaps, that he wasn't a big enough star), he loses out to Fred Astaire, the guy that should have gotten Judy Garland in the first place. Only I wasn't ever interested in that story, since we knew how it was going to end from the start. What I wanted to know was where Peter Lawford goes from there. Does he rebound quickly and move on to the next girl? Does he agonize over what might have been? Does he join the French Foreign Legion? You get the picture.
I did something like this awhile ago with Hogan's Heroes, wondering what had happened to Colonel Hogan, so perhaps it's not surprising I'd return to the show here. This is a little different though, in that I'm taking the bad guy, who was played entirely for laughs, and making him not only a serious character in a serious story, but the protagonist as well. Would it work? I suppose to a certain extent that depends on how good a writer you are.
The title of this piece comes from the first line of the book. It's the line that Hochstetter always uses when entering a room. He flashes his credentials and pushes his way through the door, past whomever it was that had answered his knock. (That is, if he even bothers to knock.) It's the same line he's said how many times? Hundreds? Thousands? And at first it was exciting, being part of the elite Nazi corps, but as time has gone on it has become his burden rather than his glory. He has come to see the corruption inherent in the Nazi regime, the evil that it pursues, the lost cause that the war has become. (This is how we make him a palatable protagonist.) And yet he remains - after all, nobody ever retires from the Gestapo. Besides, it has kept him out of active duty on either front. And even when you're in the middle of a war, there's still a job to do, and that's where Hochstetter finds himself as the story opens.
He's been called in to investigate a murder that's occurred at a defense plant, one that is working on a secret weapons package. (I don't know if the Gestapo even did this kind of thing, but why not? For something that's top secret and concerned with the war effort, you might have the Gestapo investigate.) Because Hochstetter is portrayed as a comic foil in the series, we don't want to change him that dramatically; therefore, we turn him into a character that's something like Columbo without the cleverness. He's kind of clumsy, a little slow on the uptake, a plodder rather than a thoroughbred, given not to brilliant deductions but simply following where a case takes him until he arrives at the end. And in this case, the facts will take him in a completely different direction than we he, or the reader, expects.
As you can see, this is a radical reinterpretation of the Hochstetter character. However, if it's going to work, you still have to have some traces of the Hogan version. For instance, early in the book, as he surveys the crime scene he should notice someone standing in the background, after which he goes over to one of the junior offices and, nodding at the stranger, says "What is this man doing here?" It's his trademark line from Hogan, but here it merely serves as an affectionate nod to the character's established history: it is perfectly logical coming where it does, and he does not use it again. Similarly, he may make an offhand comment about it being a relief to be off of the POW beat - again, an acknowledgement of Hogan without getting into too much detail.
Obviously, we shouldn't try to make this a heavy-duty novel; perhaps a neo-noir with a colorful cast of characters would suffice. It should be more like a fun beach read than an existential drama. If you want to try something bold, make it in an alternate universe, one in which the Germans won Would War II (perhaps the Americans never entered the war - I think that premise has been done before), and we're seeing what a post-war Hochstetter does in a police procedural. Anyway, since it's unlikely we'd get permission to use the Hochstetter character in the first place, this may all be nothing more than an intellectual exercise.
A lot of people might look at this as glorified fan fiction, which is definitely not what I think it should be. That's why the plotting has to have a real credibility, and why I'm offering it up here. There has to be complexity, red herrings, the element of surprise, and something of an attention to detail of the resources available to an investigator in the 1940's, as opposed to today. Maybe it's even a look at Hochstetter before the era of Hogan. I don't know, and in the end it isn't up to me. It's up to you, if you've got what it takes to pick up this idea and run with me. I think it's a fun idea, one that has a lot of potential. Tom Stoppard did something similar with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, after all, and that turned out pretty well. And if you don't need me as a story consultant that's fine, too. Just remember to list me in the acknowledgements section, and make sure you spell my name correctly.