1 - What's your latest?
James Benn: RAG AND BONE; A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery, released September 1, 2010.
2 - Assuming I haven't read it, why should I?
James Benn: A rattling good read aside—to better understand the long reach of history, and how events from the past influence the present, and sometimes become the present. Case in point, the death last April of the president of Poland, along with most of his top government officials, in a plane crash in Russia. They were on their way to a commemoration of the Katyn Forest Massacre, where the Soviets executed thousands of Polish officers—ironically, to remove the top level of Polish society. RAG AND BONE is about the revelation in 1943/44 of those killings, and the effect it had both on the war, and on my fictional characters. The tragic accident in April is a reminder of how the past is never as far away as we think.
3 - What can you tell us about your main character that you hadn't realized until you answered the question?
James Benn: Hmmm. I know the guy pretty well, so that’s a tough one. Probably that Billy Boyle would not be at all interested in the long reach of history. Instead, he’d want to know what it meant to him, and the people he cares about, in the here and now. Or the here and then, to be more accurate.
4 - What's your favorite scene and why?
James Benn: Billy’s encounter with Archie Chapman, an East End crime lord who spends his nights in Tube Stations and his days in a brothel. Archie fought in the First World War, and is a bit unhinged by the experience. He served under Siegfried Sassoon, the English poet who was also a deadly killer in combat. As Archie says, Sassoon taught him how to appreciate poetry and slit a throat, and there’s not many who can do both well.
5 - What's next?
James Benn: In 2011, Billy will journey to the Anzio Beachhead in Italy, to pursue an unknown psychopath who is killing officers, starting with a lieutenant and working his way up to a general. Known as Red Heart, he leaves a playing card on each body, starting with a ten of hearts for the lowly lieutenant, working his way through a royal flush. The tentative title is MORTAL TERROR. I was intrigued by the idea of a psychopath in combat. One army doctor in 1945 said that after enough time in combat, 98% of all GIs would suffer from combat fatigue; the remaining 2% would be psychopaths.