During WWII, a beat cop turned MP must solve the murder of an unpopular U.S. Army surgeon in Ruggero’s Blame the Dead (Forge, Mar.).
Where did the idea for the book come from?
One of my nonfiction books, Combat Jump, is about American paratroopers in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. I traveled there to do research and interviewed 50–60 then-living vets. I became fascinated by the contradiction between what the military tries to do in battle—sow absolute chaos at the front and in the enemy’s rear echelons—and what they to do immediately after the fighting moves on, which is to reestablish order—civil authority, utilities, commerce, law. Military police, here in the person of Eddie Harkins, are at the front line of this other battle.
What were your best sources?
I’ve been reading military history since I could read, and my first profession was soldiering, so I’ve been immersed in this stuff for a long time. The interviews I did for Combat Jump and my own experience around soldiers gave me a feel for how soldiers think and talk. The scene in which a nurse is asked, “Where do we stand on VD?” and responds, “We’re against it” really happened.
What surprised you the most about military hospitals during WWII?
How advanced they were. X-ray machines, dental care, brand new antibiotics, complex surgery performed under adverse conditions—the medical people spared no effort in bringing the best care as far forward as possible. Of course, it helped that the U.S. was churning out vast quantities of supplies. One’s chances of surviving in WWII were not as good as they are now, but they were a quantum leap ahead of where they were during WWI because of the great strides military medicine made between 1918 and 1943.
How has your work as a leadership trainer influenced your writing of fiction?
My work with all kinds of organizations has given me additional insight into functional and dysfunctional teams. Tolstoy may have been right when he said, “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but I’ve found badly run teams share a lot of similarities. These insights are helpful since all my characters are caught in a giant bureaucracy. My experiential outings are built around storytelling because stories are the best tools for capturing an audience’s attention and making the lessons stick. All the leadership maxims in the world wouldn’t help if I couldn’t tell a story, and of course stories are sticky.