Author One-on-One: James R. Benn and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Hank Phillippi Ryan: Quick! Elevator pitch. What's your new book about?
James R. Benn: The sacrifices that loyalty demands. For Billy, itâs personal: his kid brother experiences war as an infantry replacement, and he has to deal with his natural protective instinct. For other characters, the sacrifices are life, limb, and spirit as GIs who have been in battle for months are thrown into the ill-conceived Anzio invasion, while a murderer stalks American officers.
Two officers from troops stationed near Naples, Italy, have been found dead. The first was a lieutenant, found behind a supply tent with his neck snapped. The body of a captain, strangled on the same night, was left in an elegant garden. One frightening fact links the murders: each body was discovered with a single playing card. The ten of hearts with the lieutenant; the jack of hearts with the captain.
Ryan: Oh, tell me more!
Benn: The fear among officers at headquarters is that a crazed killer is working on a royal flush, with a general targeted as the ace of hearts. Billy is sent to stop the murders before they go any further and interfere with the upcoming invasion south of Rome. But he has more to worry about; his kid brother Danny has been drafted to the platoon Billy is investigating. While Billy knows his brother wants to prove himself, he's also well aware that the lifespan of a front-line infantry replacement is measured in days or even hours of combat. With the added pressure of a murderer lurking nearby, Billy has to find a way to protect Danny's life, a daunting prospect on the battleground of the Anzio Beachhead.
Ryan: So what about Billy Boyle? Where did you first "meet" him? How did you come to know him? What about him endears him to you?
Benn: I had a hint of Billy in 1972 when I watched The Godfather. In the opening wedding scene, which takes place in 1945, Michael is in his Marine uniform, a highly decorated veteran, and heâs practically ignored. The Corleone family didnât value service to country, only family, and I wondered, what would it have been like if Sonny was the one who had to go into the service? I promptly did nothing with that idea for thirty years. When I was ready, it was the Boston Irish, not Sicilians, who gave birth to Billy. He arrived one day, fully formed and named, with a complete backstory. Instead of the Mafia, his family is organized around the Irish Republican Army and Boston Police Department, where promotions are handed out based on connections and family loyalties. Just as he was made Detective, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Billy had to go to war. As far as the Boyles viewed things, no one had attacked Boston or Ireland; they saw no value in another war to help rescue the hated British Empire. They cook up a plan to have him serve out the war safely in Washington DC on the staff of a distant relative, an unknown general named Eisenhower. Things don't work out the way they planned.
Ryan: Love it. And itâs always so revealing to hear where the first nugget of an idea comes from. And why your brain plucks it out of the universe, and understands instantly that itâs the beginning of everything. I get goose bumps, sometimes, thinking of it. This book turned out to be about combat fatigue, right? Why did you choose that element?
Benn: Because of a friend who's a state trooper. He was involved in two shootings, and was forced to kill his assailant each time. I saw how bravely he dealt with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and that got me interested in what things were like for servicemen during World War II. It seems that in every war--starting with the Civ -- From Amazon.com Amazon.com Review