Blame The Dead by Ed Ruggero is published today (March 3rd) with Forge Books (an imprint of Macmillan USA) and I am delighted to be sharing an extract with you all.
Blame The Dead is described as ‘the thrilling start of an action-packed and timely World War II series by a former Army Officer for fans of compelling historical fiction. Set against the heroism and heartbreak of World War II, Ed Ruggero brilliantly captures, with grace and authenticity, the evocative and timeless stories of ordinary people swept up in extraordinary times‘
Please do read on for more details and a look inside the cover with a peek into the opening chapter…
[ About the Book ]
The nurses of the US Army’s Field Hospitals, mobile units that operate just behind the battle lines, contend with heat, dirt, short-handed staffs, the threat of German counterattack and an ever-present flood of horribly wounded GIs. At the 11th Field Hospital near Palermo, Sicily in the bloody summer of 1943, nurses also live with the threat of violent assault by one of their own―at least until someone shoots Dr. Myers Stephenson in the head.
Enter Eddie Harkins, a tough former Philadelphia beat cop turned Military Police lieutenant, who is first on the scene. Although he has never been a detective, Harkins soon finds himself the lone investigator, either because the Military Police are under-staffed or because someone in power thinks this rank amateur will never get close to the real killer. When the hospital commander tries to derail Harkins’ investigation by transferring or harassing key witnesses, it becomes clear to Harkins that the unit is rotten to its core, that the nurses are not safe, and that patients who have survived Nazi bullets are still at risk after they arrive at this place that is supposed to save them.
Harkins fights―and worries that he is losing―multiple battles. He is driven to give hope to nurses who just want to do their life-saving work, to right at least a few of the wrongs around him, and to do penance for sins in his own past. The one bright note for Harkins is a rekindled relationship with Kathleen Donnelly, a nurse from Harkins’ old neighborhood; but even that is complicated when Donnelly becomes a victim.
[ Extract ]
2 August 1943
Near Palermo, Sicily
“We got a waver,” Lieutenant Eddie Harkins said when he spotted the GI up ahead. A soldier was flagging them with both arms, right near a dirt-road turnoff marked with a hand-lettered sign saying 11TH FIELD HOSP.
“Two hands. Must be more than one bedpan missing.”
Harkins directed these comments at his driver, Bobby Ray Thomas, who sat shivering in the passenger seat of their jeep. Malaria. Sweating and shaky, too sick to drive but not wanting to let Harkins down. Harkins had been behind the wheel all night and now, just after dawn and coming off twenty-four hours straight duty, he and Thomas were exhausted bone deep.
Since the invasion began on July 10, over a hundred thousand GIs and British Tommies had poured ashore, engulfing first the southern and then the western end of the island, overwhelming the roads until nothing could move, drinking the wells dry, looting stores of wine, driving up prices of everything from whores to fresh food, leaving the detritus of battle covering the sun-scorched landscape. Every roadside was littered with discarded ration cans and cigarette packs, fire-blackened German and Italian war equipment, bloody bandages, used condoms, splintered furniture, filthy clothing, dead burros, and the occasional unburied enemy soldier, bloated and black and stripped of his shoes.
“We’ve turned this place into a shithole,” Harkins said to Thomas that morning, when first light revealed that they’d parked in a field alongside a dozen dead cows.
“We liberated them from the Germans,” Thomas had offered, mock-serious. “And from the Fascists.”
“I bet they’re overcome with gratitude,” Harkins countered. He got his red hair and light blue eyes from his mother, but he’d inherited from his father a mistrust of all landlords and liberators.
For the past six days, Harkins and his platoon of twenty-five military police soldiers, riding in eight jeeps, had been shepherding columns of American war machines—tanks, trucks and wreckers, jeeps and trailers hauling bulldozers, ambulances and big Dodge staff cars, all of it crammed onto the patchwork of dirt trails that passed for roads in western Sicily, all of it headed to Palermo, where Harkins had promised his men a dip in the sea. In the meantime, everyone was struck dumb by the heat.
Harkins’ neck was sunburned, raw. There were salt stains on his trousers where the sweat had dried repeatedly; his socks were damp as dishrags inside his GI shoes.
Thomas opened his eyes; his voice was cracked and just loud enough to be heard over the jeep engine.
“We should have invaded Ireland,” he said. “I read it’s always green and cool there.”
“You should write to General Eisenhower,” Harkins said.
Thomas dreamed of someplace cool. Harkins, who’d been running on little sleep for what seemed like months, craved rest. Now it looked like they’d be sidetracked; Harkins hoped it wouldn’t be for long.
The soldier up ahead had spotted the military police brassards they wore, big armbands with “MP” in white letters. This happened more than Harkins would have expected—GIs coming to them—but it was usually for help with some small, impossible-to-solve crime: someone took my pocketknife, somebody stole my poker winnings, some jackass pissed on my bedroll.
Harkins let the jeep roll to a stop. “Big crime spree here?”
The soldier, whose helmet had the red cross on white circle of a medic, saluted then jumped into the back. He looked shaken, a little bug-eyed.
“Glad you guys were driving by,” the medic said. “Straight ahead. You’ll see everybody. Look for First Sergeant Drake.”
The dirt track into the hospital compound was lined with dozens of U.S. Army tents of various sizes, all of them sun-blasted and coated with dust. Harkins had seen medical units positioned throughout the battle zone, chains of care starting with small aid stations just behind the front. There, medics and perhaps a single doctor treated minor wounds and injuries and, for more serious cases, stabilized a wounded soldier for evacuation to the rear.
Here—Harkins estimated they were some twenty-five to thirty miles behind the front—field hospitals did major surgery. Soldiers who required long-term care were moved to more permanent station hospitals even farther from the fighting. A GI in Harkins’ platoon, a Californian named Maretsky, talked endlessly about the “million-dollar wound,” one that didn’t hurt too much and wouldn’t mean permanent disability, but was serious enough to warrant evacuation all the way back along the chain to some cushy stateside hospital, with “fresh orange juice and fresher nurses.”
A hundred yards along, Harkins found a small crowd of fifteen or twenty soldiers standing in the wide alley between two large tents. Some of them had their heads pressed together, whispering. A few stood with arms folded, looking worried. The crowd parted a bit and Harkins saw the body, felt the adrenaline jolt he knew from his days as a street cop in Philadelphia. Beside the corpse was a big man wearing the stripes of a first sergeant and a slouch campaign hat that was twenty years old if it was a day. He looked at Harkins, checked the MP brassard, and tipped his chin down in silent greeting.
The dead man lay on his stomach in the dust, left leg straight behind, right leg cocked, arms shoulder high and bent at ninety degrees, like he was demonstrating how to crawl beneath barbed wire. His helmet was a few feet away; his hair on the right side was dark and curly. The top left side of his skull was a tangle of blood and brains. Exit wound.
In his six years as a patrolman, Harkins had worked a couple dozen murder scenes, and five or six times he’d been the first cop to arrive. The exhaustion he’d felt a moment ago faded as his training and the adrenaline kicked in, like someone had flipped his own personal power switch to “on.”
[ Bio ]
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, Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC and has spoken to audiences around the world on leadership, leader development and ethics.
He lives in Philadelphia.
Twitter – @EdRuggero