to see and hear
Who: Novelist James Penn
What: Practically discusses his last two books, “From the Shadows” and “Freegift”
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
How much: free
To access: Via Zoom, sign up at www.banksquarebooks.com
Billy Boyle needed a vacation. In fact, it was in Cairo. But, again, he was interrupted by James Bean, who did not let the poor demon rest.
For a bit of context, Boyle is a fictional character – a complex, efficient, and dependable ex-Boston cop turned criminal investigator for the US Army in World War II. Ben is the author who created and excellently curated the adventures of Captain Boyle through 16 puzzles for Soho Books.
Well, make this 17 book.
Despite Boyle’s efforts to relax in Cairo—which he does at the beginning of From the Shadows, Benn’s latest book in the series—the detective is called to southern France in 1944 to work with French Resistance fighters to protect the Royal Navy’s captain.
But Boyle discovers a vast web of tricks and betrayals in a plot in which he meets his true love, Allied spy Diana Seton, and interacts with the legendary team 442nd Combat Regiment – a unit consisting of Nessie soldiers who have become the most decorated uniform. In the war.
Benn will discuss “From the Shadows,” along with another new novel, a historical work centered on New London called “Freegift,” in a virtual talk by the author at 6 p.m. Tuesday on Bank Square Books website.
Self-published “Freegift” is the story of a freed slave who discovers that Benedict Arnold is his father.
While Bean usually holds local events live—he was a guest last year on The Day and Bank Square’s “Reading the Day” series—that has changed; He and his wife, Deborah Mandel, moved permanently from their Essex condo to South Florida.
When asked in a recent email interview if they miss us, Ben replied, “I don’t. But I don’t miss shoveling snow.”
Ben also answered questions about his new books. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: In “From the Shadows,” the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, a uniform many people have never heard of, plays a big role in the story. One of the distinguishing characteristics is the personal makeup of the group. Talk a little about it.
a: I thought I knew a little about 442, but all I really knew were the basics – Japanese American citizens who volunteered to fight even though the government had unconstitutionally placed more than 125,000 citizens in internment camps for the crime of Japanese ancestry.
This happened around the same time that my German-born mom and grandparents were living unmolested in Connecticut. Two-thirds of the 442 volunteers while they were imprisoned in these concentration camps. The great irony is that the other third came from the 100th Battalion of the Hawaiian National Guard, the Nessie (second generation Japanese-American) unit that existed before Pearl Harbor.
Japanese Americans were never arrested in Hawaii, and Team 100 fought in Italy before the rest of the unit. There was a cultural gap between the Hawaiian battalion and the men who came out of the camps.
At first the groups were at odds with each other. Hawaiians did not understand how bad the conditions in the camps really were. The government made propaganda to defend its policy and demonstrate decent living conditions, and the men who left their families behind kept silent about the reality of inhumane conditions.
They didn’t realize how awful these places were until after a trip to a camp by a select group of Hawaiians. that enslaved men. Unit 442 became the most decorated unit, per capita, in the history of the U.S. Army.
2: “Out of the Shadows” develops the relationship between Billy and spy Diane Seton. She spoke of wanting some kind of mythical ideal of their love — bewildering and out of reach. How did you decide the nuances this time?
a: Every now and then I let them spend time together. In this book, Pelly provides security for a British officer who has antagonized the French resistance. Diana is on a humanitarian mission, providing aid to French families who lost loved ones while helping British agents.
Both operate in the liberated south of France, and their paths intersect easily. What can go wrong? Except for murder, that is.
3: You Are Another new book is “Freegift”, about a freed slave in the time of the Revolutionary War. The novel is centered around New London and has some amazing discoveries and surprises. Even though you’re now best known for your World War II scholarship, it’s no surprise that you dig deeper into another book. Why this particular story?
a: I have always been intrigued by what happened in southeastern Connecticut in 1781, the burning of New London and the massacre of militiamen surrender at Fort Griswold must have come as a huge shock to the region. Add to that the fact that Benedict Arnold went back to his home grounds (Norwich, actually) and caused all this chaos and death which only added to the emotional records.
I began researching the Arnold family, and when I found a yellow newspaper clipping in which Arnold’s father – Benedict Senior – offered one of his slaves for sale, I saw a way into the story.
Freegift Cooper learns from his mother on his deathbed the true identity of his father, and this sets him off on a journey to learn that fact. While I want to tell the history of what happened and shed light on the roles of blacks in colonial society and the war for our independence, it is also a classic father and son story. this is my world.
4: The work of publishing is complex and sometimes confusing. so harsh. Without trying to convince you by saying anything that could be inferred incorrectly, why, with your success, did you have to publish “Freegift” and a previous independent novel, “The Shard”.?
a: Well, they call the Korean War the Forgotten War. The Shard is about American prisoners of war, the forgotten men of that forgotten war. I couldn’t find a home for her, and I wanted the truth of what they had been exposed to. Self-publishing was the way to do this.
“Freegift” was the same thing. Southeast Connecticut is a relatively small plate, and the Revolutionary War is not a hot topic in fiction. Again, I’d prefer a story to reach a smaller audience than no story at all. I enjoyed writing “Freegift” and depicting what New London was like at the time.
5: Did you run into any great surprises while searching for “Freegift”?
a: On a walk tracing the Redcoats’ route to New London, we found that one of the fights took place at Fort Nonsense, or Town Hill Fort, at what is now the corner of Ocean and Willetts Avenues – also the site of Debies’ childhood home. History has its own way.