By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell
It’s here. Hold the presses. Ready the fireworks. Make ready the launch … Dying for the Past hits the shelves tomorrow! Detective Oliver “Tuck” Tucker is back in Book II of his Gumshoe Ghost series, and he’s ready to solve another case. This one, as explained in Part I of this two-part blog “Dying for the Past—The Roots of this Sequel” centers around the murder of a wealthy and mysterious philanthropist with connections to a 1930s mobster’s journal containing the secrets of Washington D.C.’s powerbrokers, gangsters, and spies.
Everyone wants the book. And they’ll do anything—especially kill—to get it.
In Part I of this blog, I explained that Tuck is up against Vincent Calaprese, the spirit of a 1930’s gangster, the Russian Mob, and several conniving suspects. Someone killed Stephanos Grecco—a wealthy philanthropist—in front of a hundred charity gala guests dancing the night away. The story surrounds the search for Vincent’s journal—the book—in which he kept tabs on spy rings, mob bosses, and corrupt Washington D.C. elite. Vincent used his journal to persuade the FBI from shutting down his operations and keep his mob competition at arm’s length. Over the years, the book became a shield against the growing Russian mob and corrupt government officials. To mess with Vincent’s family meant risking the book telling its stories.
This subplot is based on true events.
During the run-up to WWII, some mob leaders helped our government thwart, and in some cases, directly combat our enemies. Known mob kingpins are believed to have kept track of Axis spies operating in the country and reporting activities to the authorities, in particular, with ports and rail yards where sabotage was a threat. During those years (and perhaps still today), the mob had special access to ports, rail, and coastal cities —they had their own networks controlling the docks and cargo throughout the country; they also had enormous power over the labor unions working those areas. I suppose that while they were mobsters and racketeers, they were still Americans and, in a world war where nationalism was the battle cry, even the bad guys waved the flag.
One story has it that Meyer Lansky, along with a key mob boss and pal, Salvatore C. Luciano, a.k.a. Lucky Luciano, played key roles in keeping union dockworkers from striking during the war and aiding in the successful invasion of Sicily by American forces. Further, Lansky helped our government recruit fellow mobsters, Bugsey Siegel and Lepke Buchalter. The three gangsters were reportedly merciless at intimidating potential German-American Nazi sympathizers to keep them from gaining any foothold in the country. These men also played other roles while working for the government. Lucky Luciano also reportedly played a vital role in aiding the U.S. invasion of Sicily. Luciano was a notorious Italian boss with power in both the U.S. and in Sicily. According to historical accounts, Luciano traded his freedom from prison for his assistance in helping secure intelligence and cooperation from Sicilian mob assets.
There’s a long list of other mob aficionados who aided our government in fighting the Axis powers here and abroad. Few of them our government owned up to after the war. One story even suggests Luciano parachuted into Sicily behind enemy lines to make contact with mobsters—a significant power in Sicily—and organize them to aid the Allied invasion.
With history like this, how could I resist? So, while creating Vincent Calaprese and his delectable girlfriend, Sassy, I penned Vincent as a hot-cold, good-mobster, bad-mobster kinda guy. His connection to pre-WWII espionage and corruption is the backstory of Dying for the Past—and what better vehicle to connect the past with the present than a dangerous journal that named names and could blaze a trail to modern day espionage and corruption in 2015? And of course, the book and its stories were worth killing for.
The next ingredient in my story is Tuck’s family background and what secrets his unknown past might reveal. For those of you who have read Dying to Know, you know that Tuck was an orphan raised in foster care. He never knew anyone or anything about his family. In Dying to Know, we learn that Doc, his cantankerous spirit guide, is family. In Dying for the Past, we’ll begin to learn that being a ghost is hereditary and Tuck’s roots may well include mobsters, spies, cops and robbers, and a host of wayward spirits—pun intended. Ultimately, as Tuck’s stories continue, all the books will be connected through Tuck’s family past. There is a method to my madness and an intricate web of spirited lineage that will tie the cases—and the characters—all together. It suffices to say that Tuck’s murder was not an accident—and neither was Doc’s or the rest of Tuck’s family. In fact, they were all dying to get together. Wow, is that another book title?
Why am I so connected to the past myself? I have no choice—my own family tree has some interesting stories, too.
As a young boy, my grandfather, Oscar, told a few tales of his life in the 30s and 40s. As a very young man, he took to life as a hobo and rode the rails around the east coast looking for adventure—and work—during the Great Depression. In WWII, he was one of the oldest draftees and his exploits included working for a Military Intelligence Officer in the Pacific Theatre. My great uncle, John, was a drummer for the likes of the Dorsey Brothers, Gene Kruppa, and Glenn Miller. While I don’t think anyone ever heard of him, my grandparents were his biggest fans and instilled a love of Big Band and Swing music in me. In Dying for the Past, that music plays a unique role in Vincent Calaprese’s chapters and help me keep his era alive throughout the story. And last, but perhaps most significant is my mentor for the past 24 years, Wally, who is one of the last remaining OSS operatives (Office of Strategic Service—the forerunner to the CIA) still alive today. After the war, Wally joined the CIA and became one of its senior executives through the cold war and into the 80s. He fought the Germans in Northern Africa and Europe, fought the communists in Greece, the Russians throughout the world, and all enemies in between (and I dare say a bunch of Washington bureaucrats, too) until his retirement. His exploits and his life story are a constant source of material for my books. It is no secret that Wally is thinly disguised as Doc—Tuck’s omnipotent, brassy spirit mentor—in all of Tuck’s stories.
As you can see, history is a big part of my life and is a constant theme throughout my books. In my upcoming Dying to Tell, Book III in Tuck’s series, the OSS and a WWII operation in the Middle East play a significant role in a series of murders. Dying to Tell releases in January 2016.
For you history and mystery aficionados, I hope you’ll give Dying for the Past and Dying to Know a read. When you do, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
For the New Year, stay safe and well!
TJ O’CONNOR IS THE AUTHOR OF DYING FOR THE PAST and DYING TO KNOW, available in books stores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying for the Past and Dying To Know are the first of eight novels to be published. Learn more about Tj’s world at www.tjoconnor.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author