8 smart and sassy crime fiction writers dish on writing and life.
It's The View. With bodies.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
James Benn and "Gateway Mysteries"
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I've been honored to introduce
many wonderful authors, but must confess — I'm a huge fan of James Benn and his Billy Boyle series from way back. I remember reading the first novel, Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery, in 2007 — and being absolutely bowled over. A World War II mystery — told in such a fresh and exciting way. (It was what I wanted to do — but with a female protagonist. Jim and I have joked that someday we should write a Billy Boyle/Maggie Hope crossover story.) Jim is now on his ninth Billy Boyle mystery, and in my humble opinion, they just keep getting better and better. Here's a brief description of his newest, due out in September: THE REST IS SILENCE (September 2014) is the ninth Billy
Boyle mystery. As preparations for D-Day continue, Billy and Kaz are sent to southwest England to investigate the discovery of a body washed up on a beach in a restricted training area. As the case proceeds, Billy comes face to face with the cost of war for the English people. After five long years with their nation on the front lines, the wounded and maimed in body and soul are returning home. In the midst of all this, an American training exercise goes horribly wrong as German E-boats intercept a convoy headed for the beach at Slapton Sands. Nearly a thousand men are killed in the Channel waters, but Billy and Kaz are tasked to find ten of them; BIGOTs, those who know the secrets of D-Day.
And here, without further ado, is Jim, talking about his "gateway mystery" — the one that sparked his interest in the genre.
JAMES BENN: How did we all end up here? No, not here in the cosmos,
but at a site dedicated to crime fiction. We all had to start somewhere,
picking up a mystery novel for the first time, getting hooked, finding a
cultural home base, and gathering online to celebrate our communal interests.
weren’t my first genre. In high school I was all about science fiction. Isaac
Asimov and the Foundation Trilogy. After college the appeal of sci-fi faded,
and I began to read mainly non-fiction.
In 1974 I was working at the
University of Denver Library, as a para-professional cataloger in the serials
department, taking library science graduate courses at night. For some unknown
reason, the university subscribed to a wide variety of British tabloid newspapers.
Hardly research materials.
Until the Lord Lucan murder
I don’t recall seeing the case reported in the American press, but when the tabloids came in to the library, the front pages were lit up with it. Dark-haired, tall, and good-looking, Lord Lucan was an aristocrat and a gambler. He gave up the banking profession in 1960 when he won 26,000 pounds gambling over the course of two days. That earned him the nickname “Lucky” Lucan and left him with the mistaken impression he could do it again and again.
Separated from his wife—and
with her in possession of the family
home in London—he evidently came up with a
scheme to kill her and gain custody of the home and his children. His career as
a murderer was about as rewarding as his gambling life. On Thursday, November
7, 1974, Lucan broke into his wife’s house and waited for her in the kitchen,
armed with a length of pipe. He’d unscrewed the light bulb to better hide in
the darkness when she came down for her evening cuppa.
Unfortunately for Sandra
Rivett, the live-in nanny who usually
took Thursday nights off, she stayed home
that night. A young girl, about the same height as Lady Lucan, offered to make
tea for her that fateful night.
She died in the darkened
kitchen, her head smashed in.
In the dark, Lucky Lucan
worked feverishly to stuff her body into a mail sack (still thinking it was
Lady Lucan), planning to dump it at sea and report his wife missing. He was
interrupted by Veronica Lucan, who’d come down
stairs to check on Sandra. He
attacked her, wounding her severely, but not before she grabbed his balls and
rendered him hors de combat.
Of course, this all didn’t
come out at first. The initial reports were short on details and full of the
claims Lucan made—in letters written while on the run—about finding a strange
man attacking his wife and sending him packing.
He claimed that the
circumstantial evidence would be used to discredit him, and promptly
There are a number of websites
giving facts and touting different theories. For the basics, visit Wikipedia.
There is a pro-Lucan website,
dedicated to his innocence here.
And Lady Lucan’s own site,
striking a quite different tone here.
The Lucan family of
aristocrats had at least one other infamous
Earl. Lord Lucan’s great-great-grandfather, the Third
Earl of Lucan, earned his dubious place in history a hundred and twenty years
earlier in the Crimea. He was the officer who ordered the ill-fated Charge of
the Light Brigade, which resulted in the deaths of more than 600 men at
decidedly unlucky Lucan.
the truth of Lucky Lucan’s guilt or innocence, this case and the British
tabloid press whetted my appetite for more. As coincidence would have it,
Masterpiece Theatre was showing the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, starring
Ian Carmichael, at the same time. I watched it.
I was hooked. I devoured all
the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries and went looking for more. For me, it all
started with Lucky Lucan.
So, Jungle Reds, how did you
come to the world of crime fiction?