Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Blogger - James R Benn

My Victims; why did they have to die?
The poor victims. Mine have been blown up, shot, hung, knifed, and incinerated. It hasn’t been pretty, and leaves my wondering how I’ve wandered into cozy territory over here at Mayhem and Magic. Well, Pamela asked, and I said sure. Since my cup of tea is more likely to be a double Irish whiskey, I’ll give you some background before talking about the victims. They can wait. They’re dead.
I write a mystery series set during World War II in Europe. My main character is Billy Boyle, a Boston cop from an Irish-American family where police work is the family business, handed down father to son as a sacred sinecure. Billy made detective at a young age, just before Pearl Harbor. The fact that his father was a homicide detective and his uncle sat on the promotions board had nothing to do with it, or so he claims. Being of Irish descent, and ardent Republicans (of the IRA type, not Herbert Hoover), the Boyles were not among those cheering for another war to be fought on the side of the British. Aiming to keep Billy safe, they called upon political favors and a favor from a distant relative on his mother’s side, an unknown general laboring at the new Pentagon building in Washington DC, where Billy could sit out the war in safety.
That unknown general, Dwight David Eisenhower, was soon plucked from obscurity to head US forces in Europe. He took Billy with him, glad to have an experienced detective to investigate low crimes in high places. Billy, having little actual experience, is loathe to reveal this to his Uncle Ike, and struggles to do the right thing each time he is called upon. Some of that is due to his unwillingness to disappoint Ike, but also he wants to avoid getting booted from headquarters into a combat outfit.
So what motivates a guy like Billy? In the first book (BILLY BOYLE) he comes to England with a chip on his shoulder, and is mainly concerned with staying out of danger. He needed the war to become personal, so not too far into the book, a close friend is killed, the first murder victim of the series. This was a personal affront, and he was off and running after the murderer. My choice angered some readers, who had come to like this character during his (or her) time on the stage. That told me I had chosen well.
The latest title, EVIL FOR EVIL, starts with a victim already dead, and this lessens the impact for the reader; there’s been no emotional involvement, and the character serves his purpose well, propelling Billy into the investigation. This book, the fourth, brings Billy to Northern Ireland, where he has to confront the realities of the IRA and their battle with the English. It’s a tough one for him, as the heroes of his youth become real, and he sees both sides of the issue. Here again, the personal and emotional commitment are critical. A character developed throughout much of the book becomes a victim of the killer. This man is someone Billy shares much in common, and it is this death which sends him in hot pursuit. An ongoing theme in the books is the morality of death in wartime. What does one more corpse mean in the midst of so much death and carnage? To Billy, each murder victim is an even more terrible crime during the war, since those individuals were cheated of a chance at survival.
In the next book—RAG AND BONE—due out in September 2010, the victim is not one to garner much sympathy. A Soviet official in London is found murdered, and Billy must investigate to head off a diplomatic incident. The real victims are those whose deaths are being covered up by the Soviets, with the acquiescence of the British and the Americans. They are the tens of thousands of Polish officers executed by the Soviets before Germany invaded Russia. Billy’s friend Kaz is a suspect, and Billy has to solve the mystery of why the Russian was killed to clear his friend; all while seeking justice for the thousands of Polish victims, while a personage no less than Winston Churchill wants things hushed up, for the sake of Allied unity and victory.
Whew. That’s a lot of victims. I much prefer the fictional kind, but in writing these historical mysteries, the actual events of seven decades ago still have a way of sobering even the most wise-cracking of detectives. I worry about Billy and the effect this has on him. RAG AND BONE takes place in January 1944; there’s still a lot of war to go, and more victims than he can even imagine.

James R. Benn


  1. I agree it is an intense time period to set a mystery! But fascinating.

    And I like your idea of a good cup of tea!


  2. This series sounds very interesting. I'm not quite cozy in my writing either. I write Paranormal Romance but there's a lot of mystery in them.

    Talking about killing your characters. Am I the only one that has a hard time with this? I don't mind killing the demons in my books, and I can quite easily kill off minor characters, but I hate killing the characters I like.

    I'm on the second in a series now and I really should kill this particular warrior, have him die a dramatic death in order to save the heroine who was once his, but now loves the hero, but I just can't do it. So I'm making him really interesting and giving him his own story so he can live another day. Who knows, tomorrow I may change my mind and let him die.

  3. They were sacrificed for a greater good, I suspect.

    Morgan Mandel


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