By Azam Gill
Novelist, war historian and leadership guru Ed Ruggero has launched a new historical fiction series—Victory in Europe.
BLAME THE DEAD is the first in the series, written with an insider’s feel for the US army and its history. It follows the detective work of a military policeman after the murder of a doctor at the 11th Field Hospital in the summer of 1943, in Sicily.
Two days after FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech, Philadelphia police patrolman Eddie Harkins enlists in the US Army, which assigns him to the military police. In the bloody summer of 1943, behind allied lines in Sicily, a US Army surgeon is gunned down in the middle of a busy field hospital. Harkins is assigned the case, his first ever homicide.
Cooperation is hard to come by, in part because the universally despised victim bullied and tormented nurses. A key witness is shot to death just when Harkins is starting to retrieve some facts from the confusion. Meanwhile, the flood of broken bodies and spirits never slows in the hospital just behind the battlefront. Then an exhausted and demoralized Harkins discovers his old neighborhood friend, Nurse Kathleen Donnelly.
Though overworked, and no longer the teenaged beauty Harkins once mooned over, Kathleen’s fierceness and even humor in the face of the daily horror show are just as alluring. Finally, it’s Kathleen Donnelly who helps Harkins discover his most important clues.
Ruggero published five novels with Pocketbooks in the 1990s before turning to non-fiction with HarperCollins. Of the six non-fiction works, two have been co-authored with Dennis Haley. One of his military histories is about the Allied invasion of Sicily. So, in BLAME THE DEAD, he treads familiar ground.
Despite a lifetime of reading military history, Ed Ruggero’s research into the work of combat zone US Army nurses astounded him. He uncovered stories of service and sacrifice by silent young heroes which just had to be told.
“In an era when women were expected to stick close to home in a safe environment, there were female rule-breakers and trend-setters,” Ruggero says. “Their expertise was sorely needed, and they delivered.”
He acknowledges the influence of stylists and storytellers who produce character and that of non-fiction masters of prose.
Concerning “the biggest influences in this genre,” he recognizes “Michael Connelly and Robert Crais, who create tight stories and interesting characters with minimalist strokes. Robert Crais is also funny, which I enjoy. Ralph Peters is a phenomenal storyteller who resurrects an entire era in prose so good it begs to be read aloud. Among nonfiction authors the greatest influences on my prose style are Rick Atkinson and Susan Orlean.”
Ruggero has revitalized an era while bringing recognition to forgotten, silent World War II heroes whose characters embody humility and humor. Ruggero likes “people with a sense of humor. I try to create characters out of a sense of humor—a little bit of the absurd, humor and humility.”
His writing upholds women’s rights and lauds their transition from stereotyped homemakers to competent professionals. Hardly surprising, considering he graduated from the first co-ed West Point class and has “been surrounded by athletic, bad-ass women my whole adult life, so it seems only natural to make some of those women main characters in this book … these nurses … under terrible conditions … did it admirably.”
Ruggero acknowledges Tom Clancy as a “huge help” for forwarding his manuscript to his own agent after they met during Clancy’s first visit to West Point at the former’s invitation. Answering a question, he was also quick to point out that despite superficial similarities, Clancy’s Jack Ryan, is fictional whereas he is not.
Although Lee Child and Ed Ruggero have both brought the US Army’s Military Police into focus, the comparison ends right there.
“Reacher is a former MP full of superpowers,” Ruggero says.
In BLAME THE DEAD, former Philadelphia beat cop Eddie Harkins, an active-service MP, is “a little unsure of himself… no investigative experience and has to struggle.. to carve a little order out of the chaos.”
There are few books inspired by the US Army’s military police and, Reacher and Harkins allow their work to be appreciated. Ruggero further explains: “There’s a contact point between friction and chaos.” The infantry in the front line “create chaos” and just behind that are people who create order. That’s where the MP and medical personnel fit in.
Once acquired, soldierly qualities such as self-discipline tend to settle down for the long haul, as with Ruggero. A “self-disciplined person,” he isolates himself in the morning to write in his house in a little town near Philadelphia, not far from the ocean. Research and voluntary work take up his afternoons.
His stories “start with … fundamental conflict, … an outline and even use graph paper at the very beginning” before the “detailed outlines … characters are critically important. You have to have a sense of who these people are … The exciting thing is getting to know a character as they develop.”
Dedicated to his craft, Ruggero wields a powerful and versatile pen.
Ed Ruggero is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, and Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC. Ruggero’s previous work includes the nonfiction books Duty First: West Point and the Making of American Leaders and The First Men In: U.S. Paratroopers and the Fight to Save D-Day. He lives in Philadelphia.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.