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.