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.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013