Soho Crime, 384 pages, $14 (c2006)
Yes, I am late to this party. Hooray for James R. Benn and his wise-cracking/heartbreaking style of storytelling! Although I have just finished the first book, Benn has already published his tenth entry in the Billy Boyle series.
There are many authors who have claimed World War II as their backdrop, but Benn adds a grace note of humor in his American Irish, Boston cop main character. What’s an American Irish family without strings to pull? In this case, a distant relative has been called on to keep Billy safe from harm behind a desk. “Uncle Ike,” General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the rest of us, has decided to make use of his nephew-by-marriage’s talents as a newly minted homicide detective by making him a special investigator in the European Theater of Operations. Although the events in “Billy Boyle” are based on an actual program undertaken in Great Britain, Benn does a great job of using it to showcase Lt. Billy Boyle’s down-home, regular-guy techniques. It turns out that Billy is a natural. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Norway has been compromised by the Germans, and King Haakon and a large number of Norwegians are ex-pats living in Great Britain, scheming to get their country back. The Allies have begun a program to make this happen. Billy becomes involved when Uncle Ike (who actually doesn’t appear very much) tells him there is a spy in their midst. Billy is engaged to find him. It seems hopeless. Throw in the suicide/murder of one of King Haakon’s trusted advisors, and Billy has a full plate.
Benn moves between a crackerjack police procedural and the bigger story of a war with many victims and sacrifices. It is both amusing and moving. Sometimes “Billy Boyle” seemed like two different books because of that.
If you, too, have not dipped into this series, 2016 seems like a good time to start.