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The First Wave Hardcover – September 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In Benn's high-spirited second WWII mystery (after 2006's Billy Boyle), tough, earthy Boston cop turned army lieutenant Boyle hunkers down in a landing craft during the gripping first-wave attack to liberate Algeria in 1942. Once ashore, Boyle sets out on an intelligence mission to sort out the power struggle among Vichy French traitors, free French forces and German occupiers. Boyle is soon taken into custody and catches a glimpse of his ex-girlfriend Diana, a British spy on a similar mission. He returns to friendly territory in time to find that a sergeant's throat has been cut and vital morphine and penicillin supplies stolen. The enormous multinational cast makes it hard to determine a likely suspect, especially once Boyle uncovers a drug-smuggling network, American officers running poker parties and further murders of enlisted men, all somehow tied to a secret coded notebook. Historical figures like Adm. Jean Darlan give this lively story a bit of period flair. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Like Mark Frost in The Second Objective (2007), Benn builds his Billy Boyle series around little-known snippets of World War II history: Billy Boyle (2006) concerned a proposed Allied invasion of Norway, and this time the focus is on Eisenhower's plan to invade Vichy-held Algeria, anticipating a quick surrender by the French. It doesn't happen quite like that, and along the way, Boyle, a special investigator with Eisenhower's staff, finds himself trying to solve a series of murders connected to black marketeers and working to rescue the captured British spy with whom he fell in love in the first book. The unusual premises are the best part of this series and will be certain to appeal to WWII fiction fans, though Benn continues to struggle with the nuts and bolts of character development and plotting. The identity of the Allied traitor is obvious early on, and the interpersonal relationships still fall prey to the kind of melodrama associated with WWII tearjerkers. Still, Benn is improving from book to book, and as his storytelling skills inch closer to his feel for the historical moment, this series could come into its own. Ott, Bill
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Top Customer Reviews
In the second book, THE FIRST WAVE, Billy has seen things that cause him to grow up, in the same way that I picture my own father must have done when sent overseas in 1943.
The mystery is clearer and the characters better drawn in this book, so I liked it even better than the first one. I like Benn's writing style and the interesting tidbits the reader picks up about army life in WWII. I plan to order the third book as soon as I finish this review, and I recommend Benn's books to historical mystery buffs everywhere.
This entry kicks of with Lt. Boyle aboard a landing craft headed for the Algerian coast, as a leading element in Operation Torch. After being counseled by his Irish relatives in the Boston police to stay well out of the action in the war, he finagled a spot on the staff of his "Uncle Ike" Eisenhower helping out with special duties -- which nonetheless manage to put him in harm's way. (It is worth noting that this second Billy Boyle adventure reveals a great deal of information about the events of the first book, and anyone who has an interest in the series is well-advised to start with that one to avoid any spoilers.) Upon hitting the beach, Boyle and his superior are supposed to find some sympathetic French officers and get a Vichy garrison to surrender before any shooting starts.
This does not go well and the author does a very nice job outlining the various competing interests within the Vichy regime and how those complicated the Allied position. Soon Boyle's mission shifts to a more general attempt to determine enemy troop locations and strength. He then also gets caught up in the murder of an American supply sergeant, and a medical black market ring that somehow links U.S. personnel, Vichy forces, and even the SS. Here, Benn does a very nice job showing how the medical corps operations worked at the time, with a special focus on the shabby treatment of nurses. A further plotline involves Boyle's girlfriend, a British SOE agent now in the hands of the enemy. Thus he is faced with juggling his official assignment, his ad hoc investigation of the black market ring, and his personal mission to rescue his girl.
All these plotlines and layers of responsibility bump into each other a bit too often, and there's perhaps a little too much going on at times. Nonetheless, it does make for a pretty compelling read and a very grim and nasty one at times, as the villains' crimes are revealed, marking Boyle in a very personal way. The supporting cast is mixed, from forgettable to some very entertaining nurses and a feisty Polish officer. All in all, good enough to make me think about going back to check out the first book and keep an eye out for the next.
That mission is scrubbed, though, when they are intercepted by Vichy militia. After a brief incarceration, Billy and his boss are first detailed to collect information on enemy troop dispositions, and then to investigate a murder that seems to be connected with the theft and black marketing of precious medical supplies, including the newly developed "miracle drug," penicillin. At the same time, though, Billy discovers that his sweetheart, a Special Operations agent, has been taken prisoner, and his immediate impulse is to find her.
The plot is complex and multi-layered: it's November of 1942, and war threatens the world, made even more complicated by the political realities of North Africa and its population, and the Axis. Then there's Billy's immediate mission, to solve the murder of a supply sergeant and attendant theft of medical supplies. And finally there's his own personal mission, to rescue his love and revenge the cruel treatment she's received. But the moral universe is skewed here by war, and its imperative makes Billy's zeal for revenge a matter of self-indulgence; his "Uncle Ike," General Eisenhower in a cameo appearance, directs him to "leave things alone." (The book also chronicles the Army's shabby treatment of military nurses in World War II; it's all part and parcel of that irrational universe.)
The book is rich with detail, both natural and military. Sand is everywhere, from the shifting sands of the landing zone to the fine sand that's driven by the wind into the folds and crevices of Billy's clothes, even into the orders he carries. Gun emplacements contrast with rows of neatly planted grapevines, the stakes of which begin to look like grave markers, and the ripe smell of grapes is later replaced by the "scent of war," a mixture of salt and diesel fuel, cabbage and woodsmoke. Markets smell like spices and ripe fruit, while air raids explode in dirt and noise and steam and flames and burning rubber
Billy tells his own tale, sometimes in the brassy voice of South Boston, sometimes in the tones of remembered fear, but always eloquently. His job in South Boston was to "put things right," he always thought, and it's what he wants to do here. But in war the stakes are higher and the job is harder. There are other losses besides life--you may lose love, and trust, and maybe "part of your soul," as Billy comes to learn. In the end, war makes him stronger than he was, though far crueler. He's able to complete his mission, but the novel's denouement is shattering in every way, and though the story ends with reconciliation, there is also great sorrow.
This is a fine sequel to Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery. It's more complex, more nuanced, and even more exciting. It will be available September 1, and I certainly recommend it.