Recently, by happenstance, I read two novels from my TBR list that had plots inspired by the same event in history—the Allied invasion of Sicily during WWII. Some of my novels have plots inspired by historic events, such as my Peter Brandt mystery The Fourth Rising, my Linus Schag thriller Upriver, and my new WWII thriller Codename: Parsifal. For me, seeing how two authors can take the same piece of history and generate books with similar but completely original plots was a real treat.
The two books were, in order that they were read, the late-Jack Higgins’ Luciano's Luck, and James Benn’s Blood Alone. Luciano's Luck is a stand-along wartime thriller, one of many for which Higgins was well known. Blood Alone is the third installment in Benn’s highly popular Billy Boyle WWII mystery series.
The year is 1943. After the Allied victory against German, Vichy French, and Italian forces in North Africa, the next logical stepping stone is the island of Sicily, off the southwest coast of Italy. If Italian forces stand steady with their German allies on the craggy, mountainous island, the American and British invasion force could suffer incalculable casualties. However, if the Italian soldiers—especially those from Sicily—are convinced to stand down, those losses be avoided.
The key to getting them to lay down their arms is the capo of Sicily, the chief of the mafiusu. If he can be convinced to order the Italians to not resist the invasion, the Italian defenders of Sicily will lay down their arms. And the key to Sicily’s capo is Salvatore Lucania, known to Americans as Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the mobster. Luciano was doing 30 to 50 years in a federal penitentiary for allegedly running a prostitution racket when U.S. Naval Intelligence turned to him for help.
If that sounds unlikely, remember British intelligence used a dead man to fool the Germans into thinking the Allies were bypassing Sicily and invading Greece instead. Operation Mincemeat, also known as the Man Who Never Was, was dreamed up, in part, by James Bond 007 creator Ian Fleming. In fact, in 1942, Naval Intelligence did gain Luciano’s help in curbing sabotage activity along the eastern waterfront, since the mob ran all the longshoreman’s unions. In return, he received a commuted sentence and returned to Italy.
So much for fact. Now on to the fiction.
In Higgins’ Luciano’s Luck, the gangland boss is convinced to secretly parachute into Sicily with a British agent and approach the island’s capo and convince him to aid the Allies. Since the capo is no fan of the Americans who executed his brother for murder in the States, they also bring along the capo’s long estranged granddaughter, a Catholic nun, to help convince him.
In Benn’s Blood Alone, his protagonist Boyle—a former Boston cop now working for General Eisenhower as a personal troubleshooter—wakes up in an American field hospital after the invasion with a head wound and no memory of who he is or why he is in Sicily. When another soldier is murdered, Boyle flees, apparently the prime suspect. Chased across the island, Boyle’s memory slowly returns—he landed in Sicily with a similar mission to gain the capo’s cooperation—but as he remembers, the number of murdered bodies piles up.
In both these books, the reader will enjoy action, thrills, and twists that will keep you guessing until their endings. Great reads for anyone who enjoys wartime historical fiction.