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Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery Hardcover – September 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A promising premise—placing a callow Boston police officer in the midst of WWII intrigue—isn't fully realized in this first of a new historical series from Benn (Desperate Ground). Soon after Pearl Harbor, Billy Boyle escapes a combat tour because his Southie family pulls strings to place him on the staff of a distant relative by marriage, a general named Dwight Eisenhower, whom Billy calls "Uncle Ike." Billy's untried detective skills are soon put to the test in London, where he's assigned to unmask a spy who may compromise Allied plans to drive the Nazis out of Norway. When one of the chief suspects turns up dead, an apparent suicide, Billy displays a knack for forensics as he uncovers medical anomalies that suggest homicide. Hopefully, Uncle Ike will have more to do in future installments—and Benn will introduce the sort of character complexity that distinguishes, say, Charles Todd's WWI-era psychological whodunits (A Long Shadow, etc.) or PBS TV's Foyle's War, which also involves murder investigations during WWII. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

Billy Boyle is a Boston cop, from a family of Boston cops, but he is a reluctant soldier who prefers walking the beat in Southie to fighting Nazis. Using her cousin by marriage, a certain General Eisenhower, Billy's mother lands her son a seemingly soft job with Ike's staff in London. But Ike wants Billy to use his investigative know-how to sniff out a possible spy in the Allies' inner circle. Young Billy, oversold by his mother as a crackerjack detective, is definitely in over his head, especially when it turns out that the apparent suicide of a Norwegian dignitary may have been the work of the spy. Benn has a tantalizing premise here, but he doesn't quite deliver on it: his prose slips into wartime cliches a little too often, and the supporting love story reeks of WWII melodrama. Yet the action builds to a suspenseful climax, and there is even a hint of moral ambiguity in the wrap-up. A not entirely satisfactory debut, then, but Ken Follett fans will want to give Billy and his uncle a chance to develop. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569474338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569474334
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,051,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Writing the Billy Boyle World War II mystery series (published by the wonderful folks at Soho Press) has brought me an immense amount of joy. I've gotten to meet people in person and online from all over the world and hear their reactions, feedback, and most importantly, their own stories.

In addition to the Billy Boyle series, two stand-alone books have been published by E-Reads. On Desperate Ground is a WWII thriller in the grand tradition of Jack Higgins, and Souvenir is an exploration of memory, identity, sorrow and loss during the lifetime of a veteran of the Second World War.

My idea for a historical mystery series set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War began with the first title, Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. The second, The First Wave, carries on a few months later during the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. The third, Blood Alone continues the story through the Allied invasion of Sicily. In the fourth installment, Evil For Evil, Billy Boyle voyages to his native Ireland. The fifth book in the series deals with the infamous Katyn Massacre of Polish Officers by the Soviets, and how the uncovering of that crime affected the war, especially Polish-Americans and the Poles in exile in England. It is titled Rag and Bone (from the Yeats poem).

Number six, titled A Mortal Terror, is set in southern Italy and within the Anzio Beachhead, where Billy tracks down the Red Heart Killer, who is targeting officers of increasingly senior rank. Mortal terror also refers to combat fatigue and the terrible effects of prolonged exposure to the not only combat but the rigors of winter in the mountains.

Death's Door (#7) takes Billy into occupied Rome, to investigate the murder of an American monsignor within the walls of the neutral Vatican City. In the 8th installment, A Blind Goddess, Billy is back in England prior to D-Day and working to clear a black GI of murder charges.

The Rest is Silence (#9) was released on 9/2/14 and features the disaster surrounding Operation Tiger, a D-Day training event at Slapton Sands in southwest England that went terribly wrong. I have completed the tenth Billy Boyle novel, which will take him to distant waters in the South Pacfic.

I live in Hadlyme, Connecticut, with my wife Deborah Mandel, a psychotherapist who offers many insights into the motivations of my characters, a good critical read, and much else. Our dog Ranger lives with us. We have two sons, Jeff and Ben, and seven grandchildren (Camille, Claudia, Emma, Luke, Nathaniel, Noah, Oliver).

I'm a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received my MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University. I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Author's Guild. I worked in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years before retiring to work full-time.

I've learned two valuable lessons since I started writing which have helped me greatly. The first is a quote from Oscar Wilde, who said "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one's pants to a chair." The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who told me "the story has to move down, as well as forward." Both sound simple. Neither is.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Ruth Greiner on August 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Straight out of Officer Candidate School, Lt. Billy Boyle finds himself not in a sheltered stateside billet but in a freezing B-17 on his way to war-torn London, assigned to Hq, European Theater of Operations. How did he get here? As he's arrived at so many other destinations in his young life: through family connections, this one on his mother's side--the Douds. When he arrives, his "Uncle Ike," General Dwight D. Eisenhower, briefs him on his first assignment, to use his skills as a detective in finding a spy who has infiltrated "Operation Juno," an Allied operation centered on Norway.

There are things that Billy doesn't know about "Operation Juno," and things that Ike doesn't know about Billy, particularly that Billy passed the detective's exam only with some family help. And Billy himself doesn't know how he's going to pull this off, but he knows his duty when he sees it. And he's been a Boston cop for five years, and has learned a lot about detection from his father, himself a veteran South Boston cop.

So Billy begins his investigation, and then there's a murder, and then another death, a heartbreaking one. Billy moves about, from London to the English countryside, and to other military bases, learning all the time--from his associates, from the people he meets along the way, and from his own memories of his father's life and what his father has taught him. Things like "chasing a lie" to find the truth, and looking for remorse when it should be found, but isn't always.

The writing here is absolutely excellent, skillfully interweaving Billy's search for a murderer and for justice with the lessons that he's been learning all his life, now concentrated in a war-time environment. The characters are beautifully realized, and all have something to teach Billy.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Alex from Houston on October 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The reason I like James Benn is that he incorporates the best of Alan Furst, Robert Wilson, Philip Kerr and Eric Ambler. If you like 'Film Noir" you'll love 'Book' Noir. Billy Boyle takes place at a time when good and bad were clearly defined, unlike today. The novel's characters relect that trend yet they have the human flaws that are incumbent in all people, but so well described in this work by Mr. Benn. This is a book that is a mystery and really is. The obvious is not so obvious and the surprises come out of left field. I read this in two nights. It would have only taken me one night but I needed to sleep since I had to work the next morning, but you know, I could have skipped work and it would have been worth it.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By W. Dobson on August 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book was a disappointment. What was advertised as a war time mystery set in London with General Eisenhower playing role devolved into basically a locked room murder mystery set in an English manor house and not a particularly compelling one at that. The lead character, Billy Boyle, has a lot of potential with his background as a Boston cop and rather brash nature but the presentation of his character is not consistent. Sometimes Billy is insecure and naïve while on other occasions he is insightful and observant. I suppose one could argue that he grows by leaps and bounds in the course of this story but if that is the author's intent it unravels in the end where Billy is left looking less then stellar. A large dose of period elements could have livened up the show ala the works of Kaminsky, Goulart and Collins but what we see here seems forced as if the author tossed in a scene in a pub or with a very English "character" every fifty or so pages to add period color rather then integrate the story firmly into it's time and place. The war finally comes to call in the last fifty pages or so and shows us a little of what the author is capable of, hopefully we'll see this obvious potential realized in future offerings in this series but I think I'll wait for the paperback myself....
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Neal Reynolds VINE VOICE on December 27, 2008
Format: Paperback
I was growing up during the World War II years and this series is a treasure to me. This book is an excellant kickoff for me.Although I read BLOOD ALONE first, I highly recommend reading these in order. The character definitely matures from book to book. The status and relationships with other characters also develop. Also the mood changes, this having the most humor of the three books. Anyway, this book sets up the main character, a distant relative of General Dwight Eisenhower and an Irish-American cop in Boston who's just made detective when the U.S. enters the war. He expects his relationship to Ike to pave his way into a nice cushy and safe staff job in the army, but of course it doesn't turn out that way for him. Instead, he becomes Ike's personal investigator and is assigned to ferret out a spy connected with the Norwegian Government in exile in England. This is an intricate mystery with the war background. The only warning I'll give is that it will hook you and you'll want to read the two sequels as well.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Brian Torsney on October 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I took this as part of an Amazon buy deal, with "The Mission Song", was the second part. This was by far the better book. The plot is kind of hokey, the characters belong in a 1944 spy movie, and the style is in that genre. I read this while sitting in the backyard by the pool. It is a very good book for that setting. It can be put down at any time, and picked up again without great mental effort. You do not need to worry about a lot of mental gymnastics to enjoy the book. I probably will not buy any more Billy Boyle books, but it was money better spent than the funds wasted on the Le Carre book.
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