Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The general line: American military leadership and crime fiction

"As Lt. Col Paul Yingling noted(sic) during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war, a private who lost his rifle was now punished more than a general who lost his part of a war."
That's from The Generals, Thomas E. Ricks' study of the rise and decline of American military leadership from World War II to 2012. But substitute Korea for the Iraq war, and the passage could come straight from Martin Limón's fiction.

One passage in particular, from Nightmare Range, Limón's new collection of short stories, has co-protagonist George Sueño musing with some bitterness that he and his colleague, Sgt. Ernie Bascom, spend their days tracking down small-scale dealing in black-market groceries while generals and their spouses who evade customs law by illegally exporting and trafficking in Korean art treasures are not so much as investigated, much less punished.

That's a terrific moral setting for crime fiction, a world I suspect is unfamiliar to most crime fiction readers but at the same time akin to the civic corruption so central to early hard-boiled writing. And it's a big reason I'm pleased Limón will be part of a wartime crime-fiction panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon in a week and a half.

The Generals is also relevant to fellow panelist James R. Benn's Billy Boyle novels. The hero of Ricks' study is Gen. George C. Marshall, one of whose first great accomplishments was to recognize the talents of a regimental officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower and groom him for the role he would fill as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II.

One of Marshall's and Eisenhower's great skills, according to Ricks, was their ability to recognize talent and choose the right man for the big job. Billy Boyle's task is not as big as that of a real-life Eisenhower appointee, Gen. George S. Patton. But Billy is Eisenhower's relative by marriage, handpicked by the general to serve on his staff so he can have an investigator he trusts close at hand. Since personality is important, according to Marshall, expect me to ask Benn what Ike saw in Billy.
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Martin Limón and James R. Benn will be part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 4:00 p.m.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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10 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Should be a fascinating panel.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm looking forward to this more and more as the time draws nearer. We will have many interestings subjects to discuss. I hope we find time for crime fiction.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes. Or not.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, the discussion could easily take in history, war, ethics, morality. intercultural relations, racism, and the roles of women in wartime, all in the fifty-five minutes allotted to me and five authors, with ten of those minutes set aside for questions form the audience.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Maybe you should just sit there and tweet each other.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe I should announce before we begin that tweeting out of the audience's earshot or about panelists behind their backs is not the done thing at Bouchercon.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

I had planned to attend this panel from the get-go. You can stop planting the hook in me any time now. I still have aover a week to wait.

September 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, you may know that Martin Limón served twenty years in the Army. In his books and at previous Bouchercons, he has had interesting things, not all of them flattering, about the military as bureaucracy and as a setting for crime.

I had had my eye on Ricks' book for a while. It was the passage in Limón's story that I alluded to in the post that persuaded me to read Ricks.

September 10, 2013  
Anonymous James Benn said...

Peter, that's not very much time. Maybe we should adjourn elsewhere after the panel. Somewhere with seating and liquid refreshment. Any ideas?

September 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hotel Albany (formerly Crowne Plaza) bar, 2300 hours. I'm told that will be "the" hotel bar at this Bouchercon, whose generals have chosen to deploy conference attendees across a ten-block front, rather than massing them at a single stronghold, as in previous Bouchercon campaigns.

In fact, Ricks' book offered a few basic facts of Eisenhower's career that suggest why you might have chosen him as Billy's relative and superior rather than some other general (other than the obvious one that Eisenhower's position let you stick Billy just about anywhere in Western Europe or North Africa).

September 12, 2013  

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