Devilish tale: Forest Park author Paul Roach's helicopter pilot hero goes undercover in the afterlife after being shot down in battle.

Paul Roach was at a crossroads coming out of college. He had his English degree from Loyola University and planned to become a writer. Unfortunately, his happy childhood (growing up in Oak Park, the youngest of seven) had “robbed” him of material.

Paul put his writing career on hiatus while he completed 16 years of intensive training to become a Navy flight surgeon. During his 14-month deployment in Afghanistan, Paul returned to his first love and composed his novel The End. He will be signing copies of the book on Friday, Dec. 14 from 7-9 p.m. at Centuries & Sleuths.

When Paul decided to become a Navy doctor, he was following in his father’s footsteps. His dad had been a surgeon in a MASH unit in Korea, earning a Bronze Star for Valor.

After Paul finished four years of medical school, years of flight training to learn to pilot a helicopter, and a decade of surgical residencies and fellowships, he was ready to perform operations in a tent.

In 2009, he shipped out to Afghanistan. He had down time in between the arrival of helicopters bearing severely wounded soldiers and civilians. Paul decided it was now or never for writing the novel he had briefly outlined during a vacation to Door County. Writing would also serve as a “sanity project” where he could unburden himself of the horrendous carnage he saw daily.

Paul’s base was in a desert region that looked like the surface of the moon. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees and the landscape was covered with brown dust over a foot deep. He waited until the sun went down before pecking away on his laptop in a tiny corner of his tent. Paul wrote about the medical emergencies he faced but interlaced the novel with philosophical reflections based on his Catholic faith.

His principal character is a young helicopter pilot who dies when he is shot down. In the afterlife, he chooses to infiltrate hell. The book explores the relationship between God and man, as well as human relationships, like the selflessness he found among the soldiers he treated. No matter how great their suffering, they wanted to know about the comrades in their unit.

It broke Paul’s heart to perform amputations on soldiers and children. Later, he viewed the website of a triple-amputee he had operated on. The man had gone on to become an inspirational speaker. It brought Paul to tears.

After he returned to his wife and three daughters in Forest Park, Paul had the book published. In September 2012, he hosted a book signing at his house. The overflow crowd of neighbors and well-wishers filled the house, backyard tent and garage. Paul sold 75 books.

Very impressive for a man who once felt he lacked the material to tell a compelling story.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.