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Author Talk: April 10, 2009


April 10, 2009

Attorney David Sloane, the protagonist of the 2006 bestseller THE JURY MASTER, has resurfaced in Robert Dugoni's latest thriller, WRONGFUL DEATH. In this interview, Dugoni explains why he decided to resurrect this character after having no previous plans to do so, and discusses the inspiration behind the novel's plot, which centers on the current war in Iraq. He also elaborates on injustices brought about by the Feres Doctrine, which figures predominantly in the book, describes how he was able to accurately portray the atmosphere overseas, and shares details on Sloane's future in upcoming works.

Question: What sparked the idea for WRONGFUL DEATH?

Robert Dugoni:
Like most of my novels, it was just a small thing. In this case, I read a newspaper article that mentioned the Feres Doctrine in reference to a soldier injured in Iraq. I thought it interesting, looked more deeply into the doctrine, and found that it had really been bastardized from the initial legal case, to the point of absurdity. I have tremendous respect for the men and women who leave their families behind to go and fight for the principles this country was founded upon. In Iraq, with the use of National Guardsman, more than ever we have men and women with families and careers putting everything on hold. I thought it would make an interesting premise to write a book that discussed the doctrine and what it means to be injured “incident to your service.” But I didn’t want it to be a book about the Iraq war. I wanted to write what I always try to write, a book about justice and injustice, a legal/political thriller. Hopefully I succeeded.
Q: What is the Feres Doctrine?

The Feres Doctrine developed out of three cases that were consolidated and heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1949. Essentially, soldiers had died or been injured during their military service and the families were suing the government and military for negligence. For instance, Feres was housed in a barrack that had a faulty heater that caught fire and burned the barrack to the ground. Justice Jackson, writing for the majority, was faced with a true dilemma. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were returning from World War II and a decision that made the government and military subject to lawsuits for injuries or deaths could have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars. So Jackson came up with what is now called the Feres Doctrine, which says that a soldier injured or killed “incident to his service” cannot sue the government or military for damages even if the government acted negligently or intentionally to injure him or her. In theory the rationale was that military benefits were the proper way to compensate soldiers injured in combat. However, over the years, the term “incident to service” has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits and has been expanded so far that soldiers who were, unbeknownst to them, part of a study to determine the effects of LSD on humans, were found to have been injured "incident to their service."
Q: Your stories balance legal and political issues with your characters battling injustice. What compels you to tackle these themes and ideas?

I think they're interesting. In some respects I'm like Sloane. I'm a person who really doesn't like it when people get away with things because they have power or money or influence. I don't like people who don’t play by the rules that the rest of us in society have to live by. So I read about some issue and it sticks in my craw and festers until I find a way to let it out. I try not to preach or get on a soap box, but just raise the issue in an interesting way. For instance, I make no judgments about the Iraqi war. WRONGFUL DEATH is not a book about the war. The soldiers I spoke with said that being a soldier is about serving your country, not about whether the war is right or wrong. I wanted to write a book about one woman's struggle to find justice for her husband. I made him a soldier because it was contemporary. But really, I could have made James Ford a corporate executive who had been lied to and died as a result.
Q: Why bring back David Sloane from THE JURY MASTER? What qualities of his make him such a compelling character?

When I finished THE JURY MASTER I really thought I had wrung just about all I could out of David Sloane. I put the poor guy through hell. Then a review came out saying, "One can't wait for the return of David Sloane," and readers began to e-mail me asking when "the next Sloane book" was coming out. I started thinking about it and realized that what the readers picked up on wasn’t the story so much as the character. Sloane is endearing because he is so much like all of us. He isn’t a super hero. He isn't James Bond or Indiana Jones. But he's a guy with a fierce sense of right and wrong who really hates it when others don't play by the rules the rest of us in society have to play by. He’s a guy who believes in justice and is willing to stick out his neck to see that it is served. He’s also a person who, like a lot of people in life, got a raw deal as a child, but has picked himself up and is trying to make the best of life, to find, and be a part of a family. He’s a guy still searching for who he is.
Q: How did you research the scenes in Iraq? How difficult was it to write about and stay realistic?

I found soldiers who had served in Iraq and asked them to sit down and talk to me. It was painstaking at times because what was normal to them, isn't to the average reader, and because it was hard to get them to give a lot of detail. But I knew I was getting close when I asked one Guardsman in particular to read some scenes and he stopped in the middle. When I asked him why he said, "This stuff isn't easy to go back to." I also read a lot of blogs of soldiers in Iraq as well as first hand published accounts, magazine articles, and newspaper articles. The mission in the novel is based upon several different scenarios I read about.
Q: Was James Ford based on a real soldier?

To the extent that the soldiers I spoke with who shared their experiences with me are real, yes. But James Ford is a fictitious character. He is not based on any one person and the “mission” is also fictional.
Q: Is Argus International based on an actual company?

The company is also completely fictitious. However, the scenario of American and other foreign companies supplying Iraq with the raw materials it used to create chemical weapons, including shipping those materials after it became illegal to do so is real. I did read about an inspector who obtained an unedited account of the Iraqi disclosure that did name these companies as being complicit in supplying chemicals that the Iraqi’s used in Iraq's war against Iran and that are suspected to have been used against American Soldiers in the Gulf War. I'm not aware of any of those companies being brought to trial or otherwise punished.
Q: How can companies recreate settings from other locations? Is this standard for military training?

Again, during my research I learned that the government has created mock Iraqi villages at a base located in the Mojave Dessert for soldiers to train before they are shipped to Iraq. Soldiers talked about it in their blogs and in their books. I also read about a military defense contractor that recreated environments in which their personnel would be working in huge warehouses on their compound. I don't know whether this is standard for military training, but I would suspect that the military would want to recreate the environment in which troops will be operating as close to the real thing as possible.
Q: Will readers see David Sloane again?

My editor and I think Sloane has a lot more mileage, so yes. I'm hard at work on another idea that we're both excited about. If all goes according to plan, Sloane will return in 2010 and beyond.

© Copyright 2009, Robert Dugoni. All rights reserved.

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