Tuesday, September 4, 2012

James R. Benn's "Death's Door"

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. The second, The First Wave, carries on a few months later during the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. The third, Blood Alone, continues the story through the Allied invasion of Sicily; and Evil for Evil, the fourth volume, follows Billy Boyle to Northern Ireland where he is sent at the request of the British government to investigate links between the Irish Republican Army and the Germans.

The fifth book in the series, Rag and Bone (2010), deals with the infamous Katyn Massacre of Polish Officers by the Soviets, and how the uncovering of that crime affected the war, especially Polish-Americans and the Poles in exile in England. Book number six, A Mortal Terror (2011), is set in southern Italy and within the Anzio beach head, where Billy tracks down the Red Heart Killer, who is targeting officers of increasingly senior rank.

In Death's Door, the seventh installment of the series, Billy goes undercover in the Vatican.

Here Benn shares some suggestions for casting an adaptation of the series:
When I was writing the first book in the Billy Boyle series—titled Billy Boyle, appropriately enough—the film Good Will Hunting had recently come out. Matt Damon then was not yet a superstar, but I was struck by the intensity of his character and the energy with which he infused the role. The working class Boston accent was perfect as well.

The “How do ya like them apples?” scene sealed the deal for me. From that point on, Matt Damon, circa 1997, became Billy Boyle. Smart, loyal to his friends, and a bit out of step with the rest of the world.

Billy Boyle’s sidekick is Lieutenant Piotr Augustus Kazimierz of the Polish Army in Exile, otherwise known as Kaz. Kaz is an intellectual with an affinity for his Webley service revolver. From the first, I imagined the English actor Leslie Howard in glasses. Slight, lean-faced, with an easy aristocratic air, nonchalance is his middle name. David Niven’s description of Howard fits Kaz perfectly: Howard was "...not what he seemed. He had the kind of distraught air that would make people want to mother him. Actually, he was about as naïve as General Motors. Busy little brain, always going."

The American actor Scott Glenn, known for his role in The Hunt for Red October, is a reliable stand-in for Colonel Sam Harding, Billy’s West Point-educated, non-nonsense boss. Glenn’s voice is deep and rumbly, and he can set his square jaw in a determined line that shows he means business. Some days I imagine George Clooney, day-dreaming that he wanted to produce the movie and support it with a secondary role. The man does look good in a uniform.

Billy’s British lover, Diana Seaton, is an operative for the Special Operations Executive, and is often sent on dangerous assignments. She’s quite beautiful, and I have always seen her as Veronica Lake, the actress who is well-known for her blond tresses. But she looks best for the role of Diana in this still [photo left] from the wartime flick So Proudly We Hail.

Everybody I mentioned has either died or aged out of the role (but not you George, in case you’re interested!). It’s a fun exercise to watch young actors and pick out possibilities for the role. Casting call, anyone?
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

The Page 69 Test: Rag and Bone.

--Marshal Zeringue