The recent blog about authors going on the USO tour in Iraq to visit the troops made me think about how the mystery genre has handled war and its aftermath.
And I think that the mystery genre has done the best at depicting war, its affect on soldiers and civilians and on countries. I don't think mainstream fiction has done as good a job or as an intensive job as have mystery writers.
It can be from a mention of a character's background -- as Michael Connelly does with Harry Bosch, a Vietnam War veteran, or the creation of an iconic character as David Morrell did with First Blood, which introduced Rambo.
It doesn't matter which war, either, because the issues are the same, no matter the era. Our complicated feelings about war don't really change through the years; soliders during and after World War II dealt with the same issues that affect our men and women who have fought and are fighting in the Persian Gulf.
Here are just a few authors who have used war as a background to intriguing mysteries. The trick that each of these authors has mastered is making the reader care about an individual killing amid so much death. So the theme that emerges in each of these mysteries is that every death matters.
In no particular order:
John Connolly: The Whisperers -- Connolly uses his series about the volatile private detective Charlie Parker to show a different side of the stress and fears that soldiers cope with returning from Iraq.
Charles Todd: The Red Door -- Todd again shows that this series about Ian Rutledge, a battle-fatigued World War I veteran and Scotland Yard detective, is as fresh and original as when the shell-shocked detective debuted 12 novels ago.
Charles Todd: An Impartial Death -- While Todd's series about Ian Rutledge looks at post-WWI, this new series about British army nurse Bess Crawford is set two years into the Great War when an end, let alone a victory, seemed impossible.
Kelli Stanley: City of Dragons -- Stanley never misses a beat as she also shows San Francisco’s hidden corners, seething emotions in the days before WWII. Stanley expertly depicts an America that will be pulled into a world war within a year and city fractured by racial prejudice against the Japanese.
James R. Benn: Rag and Bone -- Benn's fifth WWII novel featuring Lt. Billy Boyle is wrapped around politics and war secrets as the story involves a look at the execution of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.
Sara Paretsky: Body Work -- The Chicago author looks at post-war stress of young veterans of the Iraqi war in her 14th novel featuring tough private detective V.I. Warshawski.
Jacqueline Winspear: The Marriage of Love and Death -- The aftermath of WWI and how it changed British society are realized through the plucky heroine Maisie Dobbs.
Rennie Airth: The Dead of Winter -- Airth’s third police procedural delivers an astute view of London and rural England during the waning days of World War II.
Christopher Rice: Blind Fall -- Rice looks at gay soldiers as a Marine teams up with the lover of his murdered captain to avenge the death of the man he trusted most.
Yes, this is just a smattering of the many authors who use war in their mysteries. Tell us who are your favorites.