Thursday, July 25, 2013

John Lawton and James R. Benn: When Americans go to war

John Lawton's Bluffing Mr. Churchill has some fun with Cal Cormack, a young American embassy man by way of Berlin plunged into London in 1941, puzzled by Cockney rhyming slang and staggered by the sight of solitary houses left standing after German air raids. Since other responsibilities keep me from my normal blogging today, I'll bring back an old post about another novel that similarly placed an innocent American in war-stricken London, and I'll ask you what other crime novels or stories have exploited the theme of wartime innocents abroad, whether American or otherwise?
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Yesterday I wrote about neat use of period speech in Rag and Bone, James R. Benn's fifth novel about Boston cop-turned-army-investigator Billy Boyle.

Today I reproduce two passages from the first book in the series, Billy Boyle. The selections are a touching portrayal of war's sobering effect on a brash young American when he sees it up close for the first time.
"We had been briefed in OCS on language differences and how to make nice with the Brits. Don't flash your money around, GIs are paid more than British officers, stuff like that. Me, I couldn't have cared less. The English had had their time in the sun when they conquered Ireland and ran it like their private preserve, killing and starving out my ancestors. If I hurt a few feelings waving around a sawbuck or two, big deal."
But then:
"People parted and formed a narrow corridor as three stretchers were carried out of the destroyed building. Two held blanketed, inert forms. The third carried a person covered in soot highlighted by rust-colored dried blood along a leg and a hasty bandage wrapping a head. A thin female arm rose from the stretcher with two fingers raised in the V-for-victory sign as she was gingerly carried into the ambulance. There were murmurs of appreciation from the crowd, and then they drifted back into the morning routine. Another day at the war. The other two stretchers were left on the sidewalk for a journey to a different destination.

"`Welcome to London,' Harding said as the traffic moved forward.

"`Yes, sir.' Maybe I wouldn't wave those sawbucks around for a while."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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18 Comments:

Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Happy B-day.

July 31st 2010 was my fourth online reviewer birthday. If we would have teamed up back then we might be ruling the world right now :)

September 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And the same to you. Thanks. To think that the two of us combined have eight years' experience. It's awe-inspiring, really.

September 21, 2010  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Well, Happy Birthday! This is a good blog. And my God, how you work at it. I stand in awe. Most bloggers fade pretty quickly.

I like the quotes above. Will keep the author in mind.

September 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, thanks for the kind words. I do what you authors do: I write every day.

If I ever stop blogging, I'll be writing a novel (or an insightful critical work) instead -- I hope.

September 21, 2010  
Anonymous adrian said...

Happy 4th Birthday!

Just think when all this began Bush was President, Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Tiger Woods was "the world's greatest athlete."

Times have changed, eh?

September 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks.

Yes, 2006 was a simpler time, when a tea party was a gathering of ladies of elevated manners and social class rather than a mob of hairy-knuckled whack jobs of both sexes.

September 21, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I think hairy knuckled is overstating it a bit in the case of the ladies...

Congratulations on the fourth birthday of this blog. In blog terms, that's a venerable old age to reach.

I looked back at that first post--a nice list to start things off. And fourteen comments at the get go!

A weird coincidence--one of those first commenters was Rob Preece, who I have never seen anywhere else in my wanderings of the blogsphere since. He published an anthology, or rather several, called Carpathian Shadows, and I had a story in the second collection. We emailed back and forth a bit at the time, and it turned out that he had gone to UCSC just ahead of me, and knew a couple of my slightly older friends.

Just to stray even further from the subject, he sent me a copy of an ebook he wrote called A Really Bad Hair Day, which was set in Santa Cruz, though he has long since moved to Texas. It's a fun story about a lawyer who right in the courtroom discovers that she has developed Medusalike tresses.

Here's a link to an excerpt, in case anyone is interested.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

September 21, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, I take back the part about hairy-knuckled. But I will insist that many have weird twitches and that their faces glow with an unhealthy intensity.

Thanks for the link, too. That's quite a coincidence and quite a cover.

September 21, 2010  
Anonymous Garbhan said...

Congratulations/comghairdeachas on your milestone, Peter.
In just four years, you have established yourself as a genuine authority in crime fiction. Look forward to reading much more in the years to come - and do write that novel.

September 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Go raibh maith agat.

No novel or incisive critical study yet, but this book ought to be on the shelves at a bookshop near you.

September 22, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

Happy Birthday, DBB! I've just read your first post, Peter, and was pleased to see that of the 10 titles in your list I've read 6. (I must get on to reading Bill James soon.) And in the comments it was good to see Peter Temple's name being put forward - certainly one of the top representatives for Australia. I only started reading DBB in 2007 when I first learned what blogs were. Your blog has certainly expanded my reading since that time and I've really enjoyed the way you facilitate discussion and information sharing. Many blogs seem to be only one-way ramblings but yours has become a community. Congratulations on that, though I can't for the life of me figure out how you find the time to do it all. One of life's little mysteries, I guess.
Now I'm off to get a copy of Following the Detectives.
Cheers!

September 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, thanks for the kind words about this blog and for your interest in Following the Detectives. The discussion and information sharing have been most fruitful on my end. I have made friends and learned about quite a number of books and authors I had not known before.

Which of the six titles have you read?

I've never seriously thought about who the best crime writer in the world might be, but when I've thought about the matter half seriously, Peter Temple's name has certainly come up.

September 23, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I've read books by Qiu, Dibdin,Matsumoto, Manchette, Van de Wetering and Skvorecky. The others are now on my 'To Be Read' list which is now running to 2 pages.
I've just picked up Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith. It's been a long time since I read anything by him, but I have always enjoyed his books and reading about the places he's taken us. This time it is to the not-so-enjoyable Moscow in the depths of Winter. I'm so glad Spring will soon be here in Melbourne!

September 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm pleased and impressed that you've reat that lot. Let me know what you think once you've read Bill James.

You may have heard that another Manchette novel has been translated into English and is scheduled for publication in April. That is good news.

September 24, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

The Prone Gunman was very grim, and while I can admire the craft of noir in both books and films, I can't exactly say that I warm to it. I recently saw Melville's Le Cercle Rouge for the second time and could see lots of similarities with Manchette - the protagonist's isolation, desperate driving down lonely highways, the dank light and the hopelessness of any attempt to avoid being trapped. Small doses only.
I'm intrigued by your comment about Bill James: "The books are violent, dark, and often very funny. And James just happens to be the best prose stylist who has ever written crime fiction in English." Can't wait!

September 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Manchette is available only in small doses; his novels, at least the two translated so far, are very short. And Melville's name is often invoked in connection with Manchette.

I probably should avoid flat declarations on the order of the best, the worst, and so on, but Bill James' best novels are astonishing.

September 24, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I agree that there is no such thing as 'best' when it comes to books and ideas. "Astonishing" - absolutely! - wondrous, awe-inspiring - just the experience I hope to find when I read something new. And 'new' can be something old, even previously read, which just suddenly lights up. I learned that I just have to be in the right frame of mind for the buzz to happen with some books. Following recommendations from people who enthusiastically endorse (not hype) a book or writer has frequently led me to that pot of gold. That was the case with several of the books on your list. So grim though Manchette was, I still recommend him to other noir readers.

September 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't picture a reader of sense and sensibility not liking Bill James, especially the middle and earlier novels in his long Harpur and Iles series.

Manchette is among the grimmest of crime writers, but it's an exhilarating sort of grimness because it feels true.

September 25, 2010  

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