Between the lines with James Benn (Q&A w/ event details)

Local author James Benn will celebrate the publication of his new novel, Blue Madonna, at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT next Tuesday evening, September 13th, at 7:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; registration can be completed online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. Copies of the book will be available for purchase/signing. Location: 768 Boston Post Rd.


Today, I’m honored to occupy virtual space with James Benn.

James is the author of Blue Madonna (Soho Crime)—the eleventh book in his beloved Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries, out September 13th. His debut, Billy Boyle, was named one of five top mysteries of 2006 by Book Sense and was a Dilys Award nominee; A Blind Goddess was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and The Rest Is Silence was a Barry Award nominee. James has also written two stand-alone novels published by Open Road Media: Souvenir and On Desperate Ground. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received his MSL degree from Southern Connecticut State University. James was a librarian for many years, and makes his home in Connecticut with his wife, Deborah Mandel.


Praise for Blue Madonna:

“A non-stop action story that adds in the golden nugget of a really cool history lesson.”—Suspense Magazine

“Benn’s 11th Billy Boyle mystery has snappy dialogue, satisfying action scenes, and much interesting history about D-Day.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a thoroughly entertaining, well-told war adventure, and since the book ends on June 5, 1944, we know there’s much more to come.”—Booklist

“The suspenseful story line, set on the eve of the Normandy invasion in 1944, will keep readers turning the pages… Benn movingly depicts Nazi cruelties that Boyle and his comrades witness.”—Publishers Weekly

From the publisher:

Billy Boyle, US Army detective and ex-Boston cop, faces his toughest investigation yet: infiltrating enemy lines in France as the Allies invade Normandy.

It’s late May 1944. Captain Billy Boyle is court-martialed on spurious charges of black market dealings. Stripped of his officer’s rank, reduced to private, and sentenced to three months’ hard labor, Billy is given an opportunity: he can avoid his punishment if he goes behind enemy lines to rescue a high-value Allied soldier.

A secret chamber and tunnels, once used by escaping Huguenots in the 17th century, has since been taken over by the Allies. But this “safe house” on the outskirts of Chaumont turns out to be anything but—two downed airmen, one Canadian and the other American, have been murdered.

Billy is flown in as part of a three-man team on June 5, 1944, the night before the Normandy invasion, and must solve the mystery of who is behind the murders before then leading a group escape back to England, with both the Germans and a killer hot on their heels.


Now, James Been reveals a few pages from the book of his life …

John Valeri: As a child, did you wear your literary lust loud and proud or were you a closet bibliophile?

James Benn: Loud and proud with my Landmark History books for young readers! I was a constant library user, and was ecstatic to snag a job as a public library page at age fifteen. Nerdy enough for ya?

JV: What book(s) were you likely to be caught keeping company with under the covers?

JB: Definitely Tom Swift. Victor Appleton II (pseudonym of Edward Stratemeyer, creator of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew) was my go-to guy in the days of flashlight reading after bedtime.

JV: What are you reading currently & what is your initial impression?

JB: I just finished Occupation; The Ordeal of France 1940-1944 by Ian Ousby. It’s a fascinating look at how the French people dealt with the German occupation, providing both a military history of the Resistance and a social history of everyday life under the Nazi and Vichy regimes. I’m almost at the end of No Shred of Evidence by the Charles Todd team. I’m a fan of the Ian Rutledge novels, but a bit disappointed at this one; it seems the solution was in no way discernable to the reader until presented at the end. Oh well.

JV: What one book do you always recommend when asked?

JB: For writers, definitely Reading Like a Writer; a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them, by Francine Prose. She devotes a chapter each to eight critical elements of writing: words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialog, details, and gesture. Great stuff.

JV: Which of your own books would you suggest to readers & why?

JB: Souvenir. It’s the story of an American soldier from his Depression upbringing to the cold winter battles in the Ardennes Forest in the last months of World War II, and through the postwar decades, as he struggles to keep his family from being torn apart while dealing with a dark secret. To keep his family from breaking apart, he must confront the very secret he has kept buried. As a young father and later as an old man at the dawn of a new and unfamiliar century, his memories draw him back until he must confront them and speak the truth. It’s a story that just poured out through the keyboard.

JV: Is there a book or author that readers would be surprised to know you’ve read and liked?

JB: Well, I’m not one for cozy mysteries, but after watching the Agatha Raisin series on Acorn TV, I just might grab one of M.C. Beaton’s books.

JV: Who is the one author that would, or did, make you weak in the knees upon meeting?

JB: You know, every “big name” I’ve met, from Robert B. Parker to Lee Child, has been so supportive and friendly that it’s been easy to get over fan-boy nerves. I had always wanted to meet Paul Fussell, author of Wartime; Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. A combat veteran and intellectual, he wrote about what he felt was the gap between the romantic myth and reality of war. His viewpoint directly influenced the character of Billy Boyle. I wanted to write and thank him, but was definitely weak-kneed about it. He died in 2012. All his books, about WWI, WWII, and the class system in America, are worth reading.

JV: Has there been an “I’ve made it” moment in your career?

JB: The funny thing is, each such moment—getting an agent, signing a contract, the delivery of your first hardcover book—is a platform for the next big moment. The exhilaration is thrilling, and then it’s back to work.

JV: What is your greatest literary ambition?

JB: To see my creation on the silver screen. Or the flat screen in my living room. It would be a recognition of the work and the character I’ve imagined. It may not be literary, but there it is.

JV: Fill in the blank: John B. Valeri / Hartford Books Examiner is _____.

JB: Thin and in print.


With thanks to James Benn for indulging these curiosities.

Note: The author will also appear at the Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly, RI on Tuesday, September 20th, at 6:00 p.m.

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