Today I’m excited to feature Tom Benjamin. Tom is the author of the critically-acclaimed Bologna-set Daniel Leicester mysteries. The third in the series Requiem In La Rossa, is currently available in eBook and the paperback is due out in May.
Tom grew up in the suburbs of north London and began his working life as a news reporter before becoming a spokesman for Scotland Yard. He went on to work in international aid and public health and now lives in Italy.
Which piece of music/song would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Funnily enough, I created a Playlist on Spotify a little while ago called ‘Half A Lifetime’ which can be found here and if you follow my profile here you can also listen to other public playlists including ‘soundtracks’ to my first two novels A Quiet Death In Italy and The Hunting Season. Trouble is, ‘Half A Lifetime’ includes around ten times as many songs, but at least it provides me with somewhere to start. When I began to think about this, I thought ‘well, this is going to be impossible’ but when I thought about it the other way around, as in what were the first five songs that sprang to mind I couldn’t leave out? These came to mind:
Prefab Sprout, Moving The River. ‘The Sprout’s’ Steve McQueen was the soundtrack to my time at Sunderland Polytechnic in the mid-Eighties, where I’d washed up after meeting a student in the cafeteria at Selfridges where I was working in the ‘Men’s Suits’ department after completing my A’ Levels. She asked me why I was looking so bored, when I provided the obvious answer, she asked: ‘But why aren’t you doing a degree?’ She was the only person who had ever mentioned this possibility to me, because in those days ‘a degree’ seemed stratospherically above the aspirations of someone from my background. I asked her what she was studying, and based on this – her own poly being booked up and their suggesting Sunderland – a fortnight later I was in the North East. This random meeting with a woman I had never met before or since and whose name I never knew transformed my life.
Gabriel Faure. Pelléas et Mélisande (first movement). A year or so after poly, I took my first independent trip abroad with a couple of friends, to Paris. I feel privileged to have experienced so much of the world before globalisation, when a group of penniless kids could travel for 24 hours by train and boat and train, arriving in Paris in the early morning and wandering into the Marais where they could find a cheap hotel on a picturesque square still inhabited by ordinary Parisians, just as when I qualified as a reporter in ‘91, I went to live in Prague a few months after the revolution (mainly on the strength of reading The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) with just $100 in my pocket. Now both cities, like so many other places, have gentrified and homogenised, or perhaps I am just getting old! Anyway, on my final day in Paris, having fallen out with my friends, I found myself alone and spent, quite literally, my few last francs on a ticket for a concert I saw advertised at the Hôtel de Ville. The ticket ladies made a fuss of me despite my terrible French, and, when I got in, they had apparently gifted me an excellent seat next to some French celebrity the audience and orchestra were waving to. I had never attended a classical music concert before so had absolutely no idea what to expect, and certainly no idea who the composer was. When the music began – or rather, paused in that small space between the strings – I felt my soul lift. I’m not sure it ever entirely returned to earth.
The Pet Shop Boys, The Survivors. London in the Nineties was my city, this was our story, especially me and my old very friend, the artist Matthew Straddling.
Carmen Consoli, Parole di buro. I am an Italian teenager, having moved to Bologna around fourteen years ago, and now even an Italian citizen (thanks, Brexit) so I feel a very deep and abiding affection for my adoptive nation. I hope my novels reflect that, although I never wanted to go down the ‘Under The Tuscan Sun with murders’ route, which may disappoint some readers (and indeed I received an early rejection from an agent who insisted it wasn’t the Italy she knew from her holidays: ‘too much graffiti and rain!’) but I love my Italy, warts n’ all. There are many artists I could mention like Paolo Conte, Morgan or Colapesce – discovering Italian music has been a true joy, but it began on a beach before I even moved here, when my wife and I were on holiday in her native Puglia, and I heard this song over the loudspeakers and asked who it was.
Sun Kil Moon, Young Love. I came to Sun Kil Moon late, being played in an Italian bookshop, but Mark Kozelek’s music strikes a chord perhaps because we are around the same age and I appreciate his mournful nostalgia, to such an extent that he receives a nod in my second novel, The Hunting Season. I could have included a number of his songs, like The Lost Verses, By The Time That I Awoke or Blue Orchids, but in this university city in Autumn, sat in my attic room while outside the streets resound with the voices of the young, this hits the spot.
What (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Telephone (for writing notes, pre-phones it was a notebook)
Italian ID/ health card – you would not believe how often you are required to show it in the course of everyday life, the health card not so much to gain access to the health service but because it contains the all-important ‘codice fiscale’, or tax number, which is required for a staggering range of transactions, not all of them monetary.
Zoom – not only has it been a lifesaver over lockdown, living in Italy it enables me to virtually participate in UK based things, especially my weekly catch ups with my fellow authors in the D20 group who debuted in the thick of lockdown (the bookshops were actually closed when my debut launched).
Laptop. Well, obviously, although I took a portable Olivetti Lettera to Prague, and it wasn’t much heavier than my Mac Air.
Can you offer a piece of advice for your younger self?
You have a lot more time than you think.
Simply because you’re a qualified journalist doesn’t mean you can write novels – learn how.
Go to Berlin.
Get a haircut.
Just talk to her.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
I was in the lead truck in the UN convoy that liberated Kosovo.
I led the UK’s first national public health campaign against alcohol abuse (alongside drugs awareness campaign FRANK) which was so successful it saw consumption drop by the largest amount since records began. Shortly thereafter, the government ended it.
I had lunch with the KGB after getting drunk with a Russian at an embassy do (I reported back to my superiors, naturally!).
I was the singer in Nineties indie band Matinee (Spotify) and, living in a house with far more successful musicians, once made Tricky a cup of tea. Nice chap.
I am 6ft 3ins.
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
Sell the TV/film rights (a common authorial dream).
Get to the end of the current novel I am working upon (number 4 in the series, provisionally entitled Italian Rules).
Perfect a Bolognese accent.
Lose another kilo.
Thank you so much for joining us today Tom it really was a pleasure learning more about you. I was happily accompanied by Faure while I put his post together and really enjoyed this and your other music choices. I love the Pet Shop Boys anyway and was very taken with Sun Kil Moon, the guitar had me straight away as I’m partial to classical guitar. I feel I’ve cheated you out of a choice of ‘things you can’t live without’ by having to include a cat. I keep meaning to amend this question as, for me, pets count as family. You must have some fascinating stories to tell, dining with the KGB and being at the forefront when Kosovo was liberated – downhill from here for everybody else hereon in with this question! I really hope you get to tick off those items on your to do list, being able to travel again I suspect is a dream for all of us at the moment. I do have one further question though, (as one beguiled by romance novels recently) did you talk to her?
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A Quiet Death in Italy (Daniel Leicester Book 1)
Bologna: city of secrets, suspicion . . . and murder
When the body of a radical protestor is found floating in one of Bologna’s underground canals, it seems that most of the city is ready to blame the usual suspects: the police.
But when private investigator Daniel Leicester, son-in-law to the former chief of police, receives a call from the dead man’s lover, he follows a trail that begins in the 1970s and leads all the way to the rotten heart of the present-day political establishment.
Beneath the beauty of the city, Bologna has a dark underside, and English detective Daniel must unravel a web of secrets, deceit and corruption – before he is caught in it himself.
The Hunting Season (Daniel Leicester Book 2)
It’s truffle season and in the hills around Bologna the hunt is on for the legendary Boscuri White, the golden nugget of Italian gastronomy. But when an American truffle ‘supertaster’ goes missing, English detective Daniel Leicester discovers not all truffles are created equal. Did the missing supertaster bite off more than he could chew?
As he goes on the hunt for Ryan Lee, Daniel discovers the secrets behind ‘Food City’, from the immigrant kitchen staff to the full scale of a multi-million Euro business. After a key witness is found dead at the foot of one of Bologna’s famous towers, the stakes could not be higher. Daniel teams up with a glamorous TV reporter, but the deeper he goes into the disappearance of the supertaster the darker things become. Murder is once again on the menu, but this time Daniel himself stands accused. And the only way he can clear his name is by finding Ryan Lee…
Requiem in La Rossa (Daniel Leicester Book 3)
In the sweltering heat of a Bologna summer, a murderer plans their pièce de résistance…
Only in Bologna reads the headline in the Carlino after a professor of music is apparently murdered leaving the opera. But what looks like an open-and-shut case begins to fall apart when English detective Daniel Leicester is tasked with getting the accused man off, and a trail that begins among Bologna’s close-knit classical music community leads him to suspect there may be a serial killer at large in the oldest university in the world. And as Bologna trembles with aftershocks following a recent earthquake, the city begins to give up her secrets.