RUINS OF WAR by John Connell

RUINSIn the winter of 1945, seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. Mason Collins—former Chicago police detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner-of-war—is now Chief Warrant Officer of 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 wit and instincts, Mason must venture into dangerous places that put his own life at risk: from interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market.

But what Mason doesn’t know is that the killer he’s chasing is stalking him as well…

“A thrilling hunt…gripping and gruesome.”—James Becker, bestselling author of The Lost Testament

Ruins of War is a well-crafted, classic police tale set in postwar 1945 Munich, a city that could double as the living room of hell. Mason Collins, a military cop, actually asked to be transferred there, and immediately has to find a killer who is preying on the citizens, adding terror to abject misery. Mason’s pursuit of the madman takes him though a ruined landscape, filled with inhabitants as shattered as the city they live in.”—Larry Bond, author of Red Phoenix and Shattered Trident

“John Connell’s Ruins of War is the best historical crime novel I’ve read all year. As vivid a sense of time and place as anything by Alan Furst, a killer as horrifying as any in Thomas Harris, and a central character I’m sure we’ll be reading about for years to come.”—Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest and Hop Alley

John was born in Atlanta then grew up in Ohio, New York and Virginia before ending up in Atlanta again at the age of 13. He has a BA in Anthropology, and has been a jazz pianist, a stock boy in a brassiere factory, a machinist, repairer of newspaper racks, and a printing-press operator. He is a motion picture camera operator by trade and a writer by passion. He lives with his wife in Paris, France, where he is at work on the next Mason Collins adventure.

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Guest Blog: Why I Don’t “Believe” in “Jack the Ripper” by Carla E. Anderton

Today I’m featuring guest blogger Carla E. Anderton, whose debut novel, The Heart Absent, was recently published by New Libri Press. A recognized expert on the subject of her novel, Jack the Ripper, Carla was gracious enough to share her thoughts on the infamous serial killer. Read on…

As someone whose known for, well, knowing all about Jack the Ripper, the question I’m asked most often is “Who do you think Jack the Ripper WAS?” It’s a fair question to which I ought to have a canned response, but the truth is I don’t, therefore I usually decline to answer the question.

See, thing is, I don’t “believe” in Jack the Ripper anymore than I believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. In my view, the concept that the mysterious figure we’ve nicknamed “Jack the Ripper” was one person is about as ridiculous as the notion that a fat bearded man wearing a red suit climbs down my chimney on Christmas Eve to deliver presents or that giant bunny bearing chocolate treats hops over to my house on Easter morning.

[Insert shocked silence here]

“But, Carla,” you might ask, “How can you claim to have devoted a large portion of your adult life to the study of Ripperology if you don’t ‘believe’ in Jack?”
Easy enough. It’s precisely because I have spent so much time studying Jack the Ripper that I have come to have grave doubts as to his existence. Due to the hours – nay, days! – I’ve spent poring over the case files, eagerly devouring every shred of available evidence, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the so-called “Ripper murders” may have all been related, they weren’t carried out by the same hand.

If we examine the five canonical victims, the five Unfortunates generally accepted by most Ripperologists as being Jack’s victims, we discover subtle and even vast differences in the way the individual murders were carried out, i.e. the manner in which each woman was killed. We notice dissimilarities between each respective victim’s appearance, health, family life and overall circumstances. Disparities between the crime scene locations further serve to muddy the waters of objective investigation.

And the “Jack the Ripper” murders deserve just that, objective investigation. We as students of the case owe the victims the respect and dignity they were denied in death, and even as writers like myself fetishize the Whitechapel slayings in fiction, any serious examination of the crimes must be based solidly in fact.

I first fell in love with the Ripper in my late teens, but it wasn’t until my mid twenties that I began to research the case indepth. I started my study with a so-called work of non-fiction, a book written by author whose crime fiction I found intriguing, Patricia Cornwell. Ms. Cornwell claimed in her now infamous tome “Case Closed” that Jack the Ripper was none other than the British artist Walter Sickert. I was a lot more gullible in my misspent youth, and I fell for her theory hook, line and sinker.

It was around this time that I first had the idea for the novel that would become “The Heart Absent” and gave birth to the character James Nemo, a tender lad with artistic leanings like Cornwell described the young Walter Sickert in “Case Closed.” That was where the resemblance ended, for even during my early research I was discovering gaping holes in Cornwell’s theory and my own image of “Jack” was rapidly evolving.

About a year into the game, I found myself spending less time writing and expending more energy digging for actual facts about the murders that could be corroborated by true experts. I learned a lot about the Ripper community, a community of which I’m now proud to be a member, and I just couldn’t dismiss the damning evidence many of them presented debunking the ridiculous notion the Ripper was motivated by a genital deformity when, in truth, the murders weren’t sexual in nature. Nor were they (likely) committed by a man who’d memorized “Grey’s Anatomy” or who had any anatomical knowledge whatsover.

Feeling a little like a man without a country, I confess I was ashamed that I’d so readily accepted Cornwell’s bogus theory, and my disappointment in myself derailed my efforts at researching the case. I shelved the whole idea of “Jack the Ripper in love” for a number of years, mostly because I couldn’t find any facts to support the idea.

When I dusted off the manuscript that would eventually become “The Heart Absent” I had plenty of misgivings, chief among them that I’d again be bogged down by the need for the book to be “real” and consistent with the known facts about the case. I soon overcame my initial reticence, however, and decided that – as a writer of fiction – I could, would and must allow myself to suspend my disbelief and finish my imagining of “Jack the Ripper” as painted by my own broadstrokes and no one else’s. I didn’t need Sickert to have been the Ripper to write a novel about a sociopathic artist living and “working” in 1888. It was enough, simply, for me to try to write a good story.

Did/does my willingness to bend the truth about the Whitechapel murders in service of my plot make me less of a serious Ripper scholar? Honestly, I don’t believe it does. I remain ever inquisitive as to the facts surrounding the elusive killer or killers, even as I don’t subscribe to the notion that all the murders were committed by the same hand.

So, the question of Jack the Ripper’s true identity is not one I can respond to, nor do I suspect we’ll ever have a satisfactory answer or an orderly conclusion to this century plus old mystery. In the meantime, scholars will study and writers will write, and the only thing of which we can be truly certain is that the spectre of Jack the Ripper will continue to fascinate the public for ages to come.

Questions for Carla? Post them in the comments!
theheartabsentcover14-year-old James Nemo spent most of his youth motherless and under the thumb of a father who hates him. These injustices he quickly forgets, however, in the arms of a beautiful young prostitute named Nelly. Reality conspires against the young lovers, and James is left, alone and angry, to confront the truth behind his mother’s abandonment. Twenty years pass. James, now a respected artist, meets Mary Jane Kelly, an Irish prostitute who bears more than a passing resemblance to Nelly. Convinced his redemption lies in her, James slowly ensnares her into his ever darkening world. His passion for her escalates to a frenzy, amidst the backdrop of Victorian London, and threatens to consume them both. Available now through Amazon.
carla1For as long as she can remember, Carla Elizabeth Anderton aspired to become a professional writer, a desire that’s been applauded and supported by her parents, her late grandparents, and nearly every English teacher who’s ever counted her as a student. A voracious reader from an early age, she’s fascinated by history and the human condition, and prefers to read/write fiction based on fact. Her pet subjects include European history, specifically England during the Tudor and Victorian eras. A recognized expert on the infamous serial murderer Jack the Ripper, she made the elusive killer the focus of her debut novel, The Heart Absent, which was published by New Libri Press in April 2013. Anderton earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from California University of Pennsylvania. In addition to writing fiction, Anderton has published poetry, essays, articles and plays and has an extensive background in small press journalism. For nearly five years, she was Editor-in-Chief of a regional monthly newsmagazine, California Focus, and since 1994 has edited/produced a literary arts magazine, Peer Amid, at varying intervals. Currently, Anderton is an adjunct professor of English. She also serves as President of the Board of Directors of the Jozart Center for the Arts in California, Pennsylvania where she lives with a tall, talkative computer repairman and her 15-year-old son. Find Carla online at:

The Lovely Bones

I first read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones around the same time I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Good times in the Loring household that year. There are several topics I considered for this particular post, which has surely undergone more revision that necessary: isolation, the gender binary (Abigail deserves a post of her own), grief. I finally settled on the ability to let go of things you cannot change, because it’s crucial for anyone who has suffered loss or has been wronged. Without this ability, the emotional devastation wrought is nearly total.

The Roma have a belief that if one cannot stop grieving the dead, the dead will follow them home from the funeral, seeking a way back into the world of the living. Because of this, the Roma conduct a strict purification ritual, in which all of the possessions of the deceased are either burned or sold to outsiders. After the funeral, even the name of the deceased is never spoken again. It’s a fascinating ritual and a crucial point in my own novel. I don’t know if Alice Sebold was aware of this belief, but I found parallels between it and Susie’s inability to move on as long as her death continued to be the focal point of her family’s life (especially her father’s). Like the Roma dead, she cannot be at peace until her family has made peace with the reality that she is gone forever.

Jack Salmon at last recognizes his emotional abandonment of his family, having sacrificed their love for his obsession with Mr. Harvey; Abigail understands the pain she inflicted on her husband and children by leaving, though it was driven by guilt; Lindsey, an adult now, begins a new life with Samuel and–rather tellingly–a career as a therapist. Susie’s family has not only reconciled, they have confronted their loss and begun to construct a life that no longer includes her. Susie is thus able to take the first steps toward her own freedom. “In some way I could not account for…I was done yearning for them, needing them to yearn for me. Though I still would. Though they still would. Always” (318). The Salmon family has learned the hard way that the years spent skirting around their grief, as if it were a giant black hole in the center of their lives, served only to pull them apart when they needed each other the most, when they might have “healed,” if you believe in such a thing, all the more quickly for acknowledging their built-in support network.     

Susie’s willingness to finally let go of the living world is best exemplified with regard to Mr. Harvey. She could have told Ray where the body was as she inhabited Ruth; she could have given Ruth enough clues to put the pieces together, or could have even communicated with Buckley, the only member of her family who has clearly seen and spoken to Susie as a ghost. Instead, she chooses to dispatch Mr. Harvey herself with the serendipitous falling of an icicle, the weapon she always chose in heaven’s “How To Commit the Perfect Murder” games. She no longer needs the living to center their world around her death. She doesn’t need revenge, nor the fanfare of an arrest and trial for Mr. Harvey. She simply needs him to stop killing others and creating more spirits like her, for she has witnessed the futility of longing to be alive again and, for those left behind, of longing for the dead to return.

In To Each Their Darkness Gary Braunbeck writes, “…[T]hings scab over, scars can be removed, blood mopped up and wounds cauterized, but the painful memories remain; oh, sure, they eventually lose their hold over you and your life, but that doesn’t help win back the friends you’ve lost as a result, nor does it erase the cruelties and hurts you inflict on those you love, and it sure as hell doesn’t get back any of the time you’ve lost trying to come to grips with them” (303). It’s certainly an apt description for the ordeal suffered by the Salmon family. And for any of us who have experienced similar trauma, Gary offers this simple yet sage advice: “You confront it, get the upper hand, and get on with life as best you can” (304).

Works Cited:

Braunbeck, Gary. To Each Their Darkness. Lexington, KY: Apex Publications. 2010. 

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown and Company. 2002.