August 1943. The Allies have invaded Sicily, the first step in liberating Europe from the Nazi’s. As the US Army advances, the 11th Field Hospital follows about 25 miles behind the front line, ready to treat the wounded at all hours. Soldiers, doctors and nurses must deal with unrelenting heat, malaria, staff shortages, bad food not to mention air strikes from the Germans. During the chaos of one of these airstrikes, a doctor is gunned down not by the enemy, but from someone within his unit in Blame the Dead by Ed Ruggero.
Eddie Harkins, a beat cop from Philadelphia serving in the Army as an MP (Military Police), is assigned the job of finding the murderer. Eddie is not a detective, but no one else is available. He stumbles through the investigation, relying on sheer stubbornness and dogged determination. He’s helped by Kathleen Donnelly, one of the nurses, who he grew up with back home and his driver Colianno who also acts as translator and always seems to find trouble.
Eddie quickly discovers that the victim, Dr Stephenson, had a lot of enemies but he also finds that that the rot goes deeper – nurses have been assualted and abused but their complaints have been ignored by their captain; a German doctor who stayed with the German POWs is given unprecedented privileges and freedom; the unit commander is petty and incompetent and appears to be involved in one or more shady practices. The nurses are angry and mistrustful, making Eddie’s job especially difficult. He is also weighted down with a terrible secret, one that he cannot forgive himself for. Fighting fatigue, time constraints and military protocol, Eddie edges closer and closer to the truth, eventually putting himself directly in danger.
I really enjoyed this book. The setting of wartime Sicily at the beginning of the Italian Campaign is fascinating. I especially enjoyed that the story revolves around a Field Hospital – my Mother was an Army nurse during World War II, stationed in England and France so this glimpse of the work and living conditions that the nurses endured during the war was especially interesting. The various mysteries, complicated and muddied by the chaos of war, are twisty and complex, and there are several white-knuckle, hold-onto-the-edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Through it all, the machine of the war grinds on, with the terrible cost and the real job of these people – helping the wounded – remaining a constant.