the 1st Ben Reese mystery
Publish and Perish, the first Ben Reese novel, begins in 1960 at an academic research institute near Oxford, England, though the story grows out of tangled relationships at the small Ohio college where Ben Reese is an archivist—an expert in antiquities, in coins and paintings and the dating of ancient texts.
He’s also a thirty-seven year old veteran of World War II; a behind-the-lines reconnaissance expert who captured German command posts across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until he was stopped by a Tiger Tank.
His war experiences aren’t something he talks about easily. He’s a quiet man who lives close to the country, and rides his horse, and enjoys the accomplishments of long-dead craftsmen, while he tries to get over the death of his wife. It isn’t until his closest friend dies, minutes after phoning Ben in England, that Ben has to rely again on the characteristics that kept him alive from Omaha Beach to the Saarbrucken Forest.
It wasn’t a typical call, of course. Not from Richard West. Who phoned in the middle of the Oxford night to tell Ben he’d “uncovered an act of treachery that only we can avenge.” He hung up the next second, as soon as he’d said, “The culprit’s put in an appearance”—and then died later that night.
It’s the call that leads Ben to look at more than the medical evidence pointing to natural causes. Though he also knew that Richard West, Chairman of Alderton University’s English Department, was nothing if not controversial—a man who provoked strong reactions in several self-declared detractors: a secretary who hated him with lethal ferocity, a vengeful former student, others who nourished private reasons for wanting Richard West dead.
Ben looks under a lot of academic rocks at the politics, prejudice and ambition that had to be navigated even then by those with unpopular opinions. That leads the killer to come after Ben with a calculated brutality that takes Ben back to the war, and makes the question of his own survival more than a matter of academic interest.
Available as an e-book, in print, large-print and as an audiobook. Find it at Amazon, B&N.com, IndieBound
Publish and Perish is the only Ben Reese mystery that’s set entirely in academia. It seemed to me to be exactly the right story of how Ben would confront the conflicts and pressures of a university culture. But I don’t do well with repetition, and I wanted him to travel after that and learn about people and careers and experiences that aren’t limited to Academe.
It’s part of the appeal of writing about an archivist. The ones in small universities are usually generalists whose research takes them in a lot of directions—geographical, as well as metaphorical. The existing archives and the gifts donors give make archivists learn about all kinds of arts, crafts, industries and time periods, and the archivists I know are curious about pretty much everything, which appeals mightily to me.
There’s another major difference between Publish and the other Ben Reese books, which gets reflected in the website “Photo Gallery” where there’s only one picture related to Publish.
Most of the scenes in the first book aren’t placed in real-life settings. The idea of a research institute outside Oxford is based on a library-research institute founded by a former English prime minister, but the one I describe isn’t it.
There’s a town in the back of my mind that I use as a half-model for Hillsdale, Ohio, where there’re buildings I began with in creating Alderton University. The house Ben owns is loosely related to one I knew as a child in that town.
But unlike the locations for the other books, the name of that town and the name of that college are not going to be revealed. The real archivist-World-War-II-Scout on whom I based Ben (who’s recently passed away) wanted and deserved anonymity. He put up with all my questions, and that’s enough scrutiny for anyone.
What They’re Saying:
“Publish and Perish is put together with polish and precision. It echoes such classic writers as Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh without in any way imitating them.”
-The Washington Times
“Sally Wright puts a clever twist on the campus mystery.”
-The New York Times Book Review
“Sally Wright in Publish and Perish has wrought a novel of exquisite wit and charm. Alternating between Oxford and the U.S., the story skewers some of the more subtle absurdities of Academe via a mystery story that combines the best of the two traditions, American and British.
Author of the Father Dowling series