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Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Part 2 of our double feature spotlights author JAMES R. BENN:

 

 

Biography

 

Writing the Billy Boyle World War II mystery series has brought me an immense amount of joy. I've gotten to meet people in person and online from all over the country (and the rest of the world) and hear their reactions, feedback, and most importantly, their own stories. 

My idea for a historical mystery series set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War began with the first title,Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. The second, The First Wave, carries on a few months later during the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. The third, Blood Alonecontinues the story through the Allied invasion of Sicily. In the fourth installment, Evil For Evil (September 2009) Billy Boyle voyages to Ireland.

The fifth book in the series deals with the infamous Katyn Massacre of Polish Officers by the Soviets, and how the uncovering of that crime affected the war, especially Polish-Americans and the Poles in exile in England. It is titled Rag and Bone (from the Yeats poem), and was released September 2010. Number six, released in 2011, is A Mortal Terror. It is set in southern Italy and within the Anzio beach head, where Billy tracks down the Red Heart Killer, who is targeting officers of increasingly senior rank. Mortal terror also refers to combat fatigue and the terrible effects of prolonged exposure to the not only combat but the rigors of winter in the mountains.

The 2012 release is titled Death's Door. It is set within the Vatican City, during the German occupation of Rome.

There are also two stand-alone novels published by E-Reads and available from B&N or Amazon. One is Souvenir, an exploration of the effects of World War II combat on one man during three stages of his life. Another isOn Desperate Gro und, a WWII thriller set during the last days of the war.

I live in Hadlyme, Connecticut, with my wife Deborah Mandel, a psychotherapist who offers many insights into the motivations of my characters, a good critical read, and much else. Our dog Ranger lives with us. We have two sons, Jeff and Ben, and seven grandchildren (Camille, Claudia, Emma, Luke, Nathaniel, Noah, Oliver). 

I'm a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received my MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University. I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Author's Guild. I've worked in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years and quit the day job routine in 2011 to write full-time. 

I've learned two valuable lessons since I started writing which have helped me greatly. The first is a quote from Oscar Wilde, who said "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one's pants to a chair." The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who told me "the story has to move down, as well as forward." Both sound simple. Neither is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

A Blind Goddess (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series #8)  

 

Overview

 

March, 1944: US Army Lieutenant Billy Boyle, back in England after a dangerous mission in Italy, is due for a little R&R, and also a promotion. But the now-Captain Boyle doesn't get to kick back and enjoy his leisure time because two upsetting cases fall into his lap at once.

The first is a personal request from an estranged friend: Sergeant Eugene "Tree" Jackson, who grew up with Billy in Boston, is part of the 617th Tank Destroyers, the all-African American battalion poised to make history by being the US Army's first combatant African American company. But making history isn't easy, and the 617 faces racism at every turn. One of Tree's men, a gunner named Angry Smith, has been arrested for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit, and faces the gallows if the real killer isn't found. Tree knows US top brass won't care about justice in this instance, and asks Billy if he'll look into it.

 

But Billy can't use any of his leave to investigate, because British intelligence agent Major Cosgrove puts him on a bizarre and delicate case. A British accountant has been murdered in an English village, and he may or may not have had some connection with the US Army—Billy doesn't know, because Cosgrove won't tell him. Billy is supposed to go into the village and investigate the murder, but everything seems fishy—he's not allowed to interrogate certain key witnesses, and his friends and helpers keep being whisked away. Billy is confused about whether Cosgrove even wants him to solve the murder, and why.

 

The good news is the mysterious murder gives Billy an excuse to spend time in and around the village where Tree and his unit are stationed. If he's lucky, maybe he can get to the bottom of both mysteries—and save more than one innocent life.

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

 

Pervasive racism in the U.S. Army during WWII frames Benn’s excellent eighth Billy Boyle whodunit (after 2012’s Death’s Door). In March 1944, Billy receives an appeal from an old estranged friend, Sgt. Eugene “Tree” Jackson. A member of Tree’s “colored” battalion has been arrested for the murder of Thomas Eastman, an English policeman, who was found with his head bashed in on his father’s grave in the village of Chilton Foliat. Tree is positive that the accused was mistakenly arrested. Boyle wants to help, but he’s pulled away into another homicide investigation west of London in which MI5 has an interest. The intelligence service’s role may be related to the fact that the victim’s landlords were two Germans who fled their native country because they opposed the Nazis. The superior plot and thoughtful presentation of institutional racism directed against American soldiers about to risk their lives for their country make this one of Benn’s best.

 

 

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Elaborately plotted, Benn's eighth entry in the series (after Death's Door) has his World War II sleuth investigating a deplorable side of U.S. military history, His use of an ongoing narrative throughout the book to explain Billy and Tree's backstory is particularly well done.
—Library Journal

“If you are already a fan of James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle World War II mysteries, you won’t want to miss A Blind Goddess, Billy’s latest ride, and if you haven’t yet taken the ride, it’s time you did…. Benn’s writing is crisp and descriptive as it always is, and his research, again as always, is impeccable.”
—Weirs Times

"Benn doesn’t skate around the issues of race relations and segregation in the 1940’s; he dives courageously in with both feet.... With A BLIND GODDESS, [he] has served up yet another delicious mystery to sink our teeth into—no way to ration this one."
—Crimespress Magazine

"A Blind Goddess hits hardest when it examines the issue of internal racial politics during WWII... another fine, and recommended, book in a continuing series of Benn’s intriguing historical novels." 
—Deadly Pleasures

 

A Blind Goddess gets a Starred Review in Publisher's Weekly!

Pervasive racism in the U.S. Army during WWII frames Benn’s excellent eighth Billy Boyle whodunit (after 2012’s Death’s Door). In March 1944, Billy receives an appeal from an old estranged friend, Sgt. Eugene “Tree” Jackson. A member of Tree’s “colored” battalion has been arrested for the murder of Thomas Eastman, an English policeman, who was found with his head bashed in on his father’s grave in the village of Chilton Foliat. Tree is positive that the accused was mistakenly arrested. Boyle wants to help, but he’s pulled away into another homicide investigation west of London in which MI5 has an interest. The intelligence service’s role may be related to the fact that the victim’s landlords were two Germans who fled their native country because they opposed the Nazis. The superior plot and thoughtful presentation of institutional racism directed against American soldiers about to risk their lives for their country make this one of Benn’s best.

 

Booklist review of A BLIND GODDESS in the August 1st issue:
The eighth adventure in Benn’s engaging WWII series finds recently promoted Captain Billy Boyle, special investigator for General Eisenhower, assigned to find the killer of a seemingly ordinary citizen in a country village. An odd assignment for a military man, made odder by the fact that Billy has been given orders not to investigate the German family who run the boarding house where the victim lived. Meanwhile, Billy has reconnected with an old friend from Boston, a black man called Tree, a sergeant in a tank destroyer unit. There is bad blood between Billy and Tree, but Tree puts that aside to ask for Billy’s help in freeing a friend from his unit, wrongly accused of killing an Englishman. Juggling both cases, Billy finds himself in the middle of a simmering racial conflict between the black soldiers stationed in the area and their white counterparts, who resent the fact that the blacks have been warmly received by the English....Benn’s thoroughly researched exploration of segregation in the wartime armed services is revealing and sensitively handled. Another nice mix of human drama and WWII history.
--Bill Ott

 

A BLIND GODDESS, the 8th Billy Boyle WWII mystery. Release date: September 3, 2013.
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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Please welcome JAMES R. BENN!

 

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maxcat
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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Hi, James, welcome to the forum. I've not read any of your books but would be willing to try one. Do I start at the beginning or are these stand alone books?

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Greetings! The books are written so you can pick them up in any order. If you like whichever you start with but it wasn't the first, I'd suggest then starting at the beginning to see the evolution of the characters and their relationships. But any single title does stand on it's own.  Thanks!

Jim Benn

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JimBenn wrote:

Greetings! The books are written so you can pick them up in any order. If you like whichever you start with but it wasn't the first, I'd suggest then starting at the beginning to see the evolution of the characters and their relationships. But any single title does stand on it's own.  Thanks!

Jim Benn


Hi Jim- Welcome to B&N's Mystery Forum! Thank you so much for joining us - I'm thrilled that you and Martin were able to sign in!

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Jim - Are you working on your next book or is it already completed? Can you give us any hints about it?

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

Yes! The 2014 title is done and sent to Soho Press. Working title is The Rest Is Silence (from Hamlet). The backdrop is the disaster at Slapton Sands, England, when a training exercise for the invasion at Utah Beach went terribly wrong. German E-boats attacked the transports and over a thousand men were killed, including ten who were BIGOTs - those who knew the secret of the time and place of the Normandy invasion. Billy and Kaz join in a frantic search to recover the bodies of the ten, to be certain none were picked up by the Germans, threatening the success of D-Day. During that search, as they sift through hundreds of corpses washing up on the shores of southwest England, they discover an 11th BIGOT who should not have been there. Was it murder?

 

I am also just starting the 2015 manuscript; we are going back in time a bit for that one. Previously classified documents have just been release which now allow this story from 1943 to be told: Billy Boyle is sent to the Pacific, through machinations by former ambassador to Great Britain Joe Kennedy, to help out Lt. Jack Kennedy, who has become involved in the murder of an Austrailian coastwatcher while recovering in a Navy hospital from his PT-109. The Boyles and the Kennedys have a complicated history, going back to the days of Prohibition. Lots of interesting research on this one!

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JimBenn wrote:

Yes! The 2014 title is done and sent to Soho Press. Working title is The Rest Is Silence (from Hamlet). The backdrop is the disaster at Slapton Sands, England, when a training exercise for the invasion at Utah Beach went terribly wrong. German E-boats attacked the transports and over a thousand men were killed, including ten who were BIGOTs - those who knew the secret of the time and place of the Normandy invasion. Billy and Kaz join in a frantic search to recover the bodies of the ten, to be certain none were picked up by the Germans, threatening the success of D-Day. During that search, as they sift through hundreds of corpses washing up on the shores of southwest England, they discover an 11th BIGOT who should not have been there. Was it murder?

 

I am also just starting the 2015 manuscript; we are going back in time a bit for that one. Previously classified documents have just been release which now allow this story from 1943 to be told: Billy Boyle is sent to the Pacific, through machinations by former ambassador to Great Britain Joe Kennedy, to help out Lt. Jack Kennedy, who has become involved in the murder of an Austrailian coastwatcher while recovering in a Navy hospital from his PT-109. The Boyles and the Kennedys have a complicated history, going back to the days of Prohibition. Lots of interesting research on this one!


Wow - that's impressive! Do you write a certain number of words every day to keep writing at this pace?

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

When I'm writing, a thousand words per day is my minimum. Two thousand is a good day!

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS


JimBenn wrote:

When I'm writing, a thousand words per day is my minimum. Two thousand is a good day!


No wonder you're so prolific! Jim, do you plot your books in advance or do you write organically?

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

I create my books along two lines; that of theme and that of plot. The theme of A Blind Goddess is of course race and segregation in the army during WWII. I do a considerable amount of research and planning in terms of presenting the theme. The plot is the device by which the theme is explored and illuminated for the reader. In plotting, I am definitely not an outliner. I've often changed my mind mid-way as to the identity of the killer. The thematic background and the development of character is far more interesting to me than whether or not it was Colonel Mustard in the Library or not.

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS


JimBenn wrote:

I create my books along two lines; that of theme and that of plot. The theme of A Blind Goddess is of course race and segregation in the army during WWII. I do a considerable amount of research and planning in terms of presenting the theme. The plot is the device by which the theme is explored and illuminated for the reader. In plotting, I am definitely not an outliner. I've often changed my mind mid-way as to the identity of the killer. The thematic background and the development of character is far more interesting to me than whether or not it was Colonel Mustard in the Library or not.


I agree! I think back in the "Golden Age" of mystery - in Agatha Christie's heyday - people were focused more on the "whodunnit" aspects of mysteries. I think those types of books are still popular today, but I think people look for a lot more in books today. Books with interesting themes have a broader appeal - to me, anyway.

 

Did you have a specific inspiration for this story?

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

I had wanted to write about race during WWII for a while, but couldn't get a handle on how to approach it. When Soho Press launched their Teen line, I thought about a prequel for a YA book, with Billy as a youth in 1930's Boston, and his involvment with a black teen. I decided I didn't understand the approach to writing YA books sufficiently, so I put that away - but the character of Eugene "Tree" Jackson stayed with me, and it seemed natural that Tree would also go to war and meet up with Billy again - this time with a murder thrown into the mix. Also, when I was at Book Expo America a few years ago signing books, a woman with the last name Angry-Smith on her nametag came up to me. I loved the name and told her I was going to write a book titled Angry Smith. That was the working title of A BLIND GODDESS - and the name of the Tree's friend accused of murder, nicknamed "Angry" since he didn't put up with the racism he encountered. Sometimes inspiration comes in strange ways!

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS


JimBenn wrote:

I had wanted to write about race during WWII for a while, but couldn't get a handle on how to approach it. When Soho Press launched their Teen line, I thought about a prequel for a YA book, with Billy as a youth in 1930's Boston, and his involvment with a black teen. I decided I didn't understand the approach to writing YA books sufficiently, so I put that away - but the character of Eugene "Tree" Jackson stayed with me, and it seemed natural that Tree would also go to war and meet up with Billy again - this time with a murder thrown into the mix. Also, when I was at Book Expo America a few years ago signing books, a woman with the last name Angry-Smith on her nametag came up to me. I loved the name and told her I was going to write a book titled Angry Smith. That was the working title of A BLIND GODDESS - and the name of the Tree's friend accused of murder, nicknamed "Angry" since he didn't put up with the racism he encountered. Sometimes inspiration comes in strange ways!


Both ANGRY SMITH and A BLIND GODDESS are catchy titles. Who made the final decision - you or your publisher?

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS

It was a joint decision. We got some early feedback that the working title was a bit confusing. Was it a mad blacksmith? We didn't want anything to get in the way of the theme of  the book. I often use poems as inspiration for titles, so I went in search of black poets and found this perfect piece by Langston Hughes:

 

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.       

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Re: Double Feature, Part 2: James R. Benn A BLIND GODDESS


JimBenn wrote:

It was a joint decision. We got some early feedback that the working title was a bit confusing. Was it a mad blacksmith? We didn't want anything to get in the way of the theme of  the book. I often use poems as inspiration for titles, so I went in search of black poets and found this perfect piece by Langston Hughes:

 

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.       


Oh I LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing!