I am delighted to welcome guest blogger John A. Connell!
I had the pleasure of meeting John when he was kind enough to participate in his first author event at my library. He was a wonderful addition to the Palm Beach Peril panel, and he graciously offered up a signed copy of his novel for May’s ITW/BookBitch thriller giveaway.
Here are some thoughts on his new novel…
Some might argue that a story taking place in post-World War II Germany should be labeled as contemporary, not historical. Certainly there are people with us today who lived through those turbulent years, and WWII continues to live vibrantly in the collective consciousness. I am, however, comfortable with the label, despite being a proud member of the post-war baby-boom years. I’ve always been drawn to novels that pull you into historical setting, making you feel as if you were there, peering into a window of another time and place, and walking in the characters’ shoes along the paving stones of the past.
I blame a history teacher in high school for this passion. He conducted lessons, not by simply reciting dates and facts, but by portraying history through the eyes of those who lived it. He explained moments in history by way of the people, what their lives were like, how they thought, how the world around them impacted their decisions—good and bad. Historical events became more immediate and understandable. I could relive the lives of those who made it, as if history were like a vast, timeless play. The truth of Shakespeare’s line, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” hit me like a bolt. I was hooked. Anything, books and film, that allowed me to peer into this magical looking glass of the past, I devoured, especially stories involving the common man and woman caught up in tumultuous events of their time and called upon to do extraordinary things.
I’ve always been a Sherlock Holmes fan, but I first connected crime fiction and historicals as a storyteller after discovering Ellis Peters’ (really Edith Pargeter) series of the monk detective, Brother Cadfeal, and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. I thought, how cool was it to have a detective in the Middle Ages? These were followed by too many to name here, but suffice it to say, it was inevitable that I would combine my passion for history with crime fiction. Three out of the four books I wrote before Ruins of War are historical crime novels (may they rest in peace on my hard drive). Actually, Mason Collins was a villain in one of those earlier works, but I found him so compelling that I decided to write a new novel and make him my hero. In that original book, Mason’s backstory extended back to crimes he’d committed in post WWII Germany. When I started researching that time period, I was astonished. I had assumed that, while sometimes messy, it was relatively peaceful. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was volatile, tragic, chaotic, even deadly…
The Germans called the time just after the war Die Stunde Null, ‘The Zero Hour.’ Germany had been bombed back to the Middle Ages. Death by famine, disease and murder had replaced the bullets and bombs. Over 10 million people brought into Germany as slaves, along with the tens of thousands of POW and concentration camp survivors, were all suddenly freed and making the trek home or wandering the countryside. Then came the millions of ethnic Germans expelled from Poland and the former Czechoslovakia, streaming into Germany with nothing but what they could carry on their backs. The conquering armies, the Americans, British, French and Russians, wielded ultimate power over a desperate population, and a typical soldier could barter for almost anything with a single pack of cigarettes. The black market thrived, and gangs of deserted allied soldiers, former POWs and corrupt DPs roamed the countryside. Talk about fertile ground for a crime thriller!
How could I resist?
About the book
Winter 1945. Seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. Mason Collins—a former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner of war—is now a U.S. Army criminal investigator in the American Zone of Occupation. It’s his job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. And his job just became much more dangerous.
A killer is stalking the devastated city—one who has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random. Relying on his wits and instincts, Mason must venture places where his own life is put at risk: from interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market.
What Mason doesn’t know is that the killer he’s chasing is stalking him, too.
About the Author
John was born in Atlanta, Ga., then spent his childhood in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, NYC, and D.C. before moving back to Atlanta at the age of 13. While at Georgia State University his fascination with human thought drove him to study Psychology, and when that didn’t satisfy his curiosity about the human spirit, he turned to Anthropology, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and a minor in Psychology. During that time and after graduation he was a keyboardist and singer in rock and jazz bands, while simultaneously dabbling in writing short stories. To work his way through college and beyond, he stumbled upon some rather unique jobs: stock boy in a brassiere factory, courier for the Georgia State Health Department delivering gonorrhea and syphilis cultures from OB-GYN offices, a repairer of newspaper vending machines, a stint as an apprentice machinist, and a printing press operator.
John’s love of storytelling is what compelled him to switch to a career in film, even though he knew nothing about film and no one in the business. He “logically” chose camerawork (not knowing anything about film cameras either) as a way into the business. He started in the film business in Atlanta and then moved to Los Angeles and worked his way up the ranks in the camera department to become a camera operator for both movies and TV. He also worked as an assistant aerial cinematographer using helicopters that took him all over the world.
He kept at the writing, frequently expressing his deep desire to fulfill that dream. And then someone finally said, “shut-up, sit down and write.” And so he did. Between film projects or during lighting setups, he studied the craft of writing and produced mostly action/adventure screenplays. He then toyed with the idea of making two of his screenplays into YA novels. That’s when he discovered the rich potential for storytelling that novels provide, and with it his true passion.
During this time he met and married a French woman in Los Angeles. While he was working on a hit TV show as a camera operator, his wife was offered an excellent opportunity in Paris, France. They jumped at the chance, though they’d just bought their dream house two months earlier, and John had the French language proficiency of a two-year-old! He’d always wanted to live in Europe, particularly Paris, and it provided him the opportunity to devote full time to writing. He still takes occasional film jobs in the US. He now speaks French moderately well, though hardly a day goes by when his wife doesn’t roll on the floor with laughter at his attempts.
Currently, his wife and he live in Versailles, France, trying suburban living for a while, but they miss the energy of Paris and plan to move back there next year.