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Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery [Paperback]

James R. Benn
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 3 2011
What’s a twenty-two-year-old Irish American cop who’s never been out of Massachusetts before doing at Beardsley Hall, an English country house, having lunch with King Haakon of Norway? Billy Boyle himself wonders. Back home in Southie, he’d barely made detective when war was declared. Unwilling to fight—and perhaps die—for England, he was relieved when his mother wangled a job for him on the staff of a general married to her distant cousin. But the general turns out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose headquarters are in London, which is undergoing the Blitz. And Uncle Ike wants Billy to be his personal investigator.
 
Billy is dispatched to the seat of the Norwegian government in exile. Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway, is being planned, but it is feared that there is a German spy amongst the Norwegians.
 
Billy doubts his own abilities, with good reason. A theft and two murders test his investigative powers, but Billy proves to be a better detective than he or anyone else expected.

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars James R. Ben Oct. 25 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Did NOT like it at all...can't say much more about it...I didn't bother to read it all....very boring to say the least.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read; Benn has a great voice April 13 2013
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
First Sentence: I typed the date under my name: Lieutenant William Boyle, August 6, 1942.

Former Boston Irish Cop, from a family of Boston Irish Cops, Billy Boyle was a newly-made detective and is now a Lieutenant in the US Army. In spite of thinking he wouldn’t be assigned to Europe, his distant cousin manages to get him a staff job—in England assigned to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as his personal investigator. His first assignment is to catch a spy who may have been planted at Beardsley Hall, English home for the exiled Norwegian government.

The book has an excellent opening with a style that addresses the reader in a let-me-tell-you-a-story style. His voice is engaging and humor, natural. There is also an honesty in the way he writes emotion.

Benn establishes a solid sense of place. Admittedly, the descriptions of London and Boston may have resonated more strongly with me than they may for others as I know both places. However, even when he moved the story away from those locations, there was always a clear feeling for the location.

The characters are fully drawn. Billy is the focus and the voice, but even with Kas, the Polish baron, and Daphne, proper English daughter of a knight, you know their backgrounds and who they are.

One of the most interesting aspects is Billy’s perspective on the war, as an American amongst the English and Norwegians. I particularly appreciated the way in which Benn intertwined the events of Billy’s present with memories from his past, as well as his understanding of people and level of caring.

There is a lot of fascinating historical detail embedded within the plot, much of which I had never known.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  106 reviews
74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A soldier-detective learns the lessons of war Aug. 29 2006
By Ruth Greiner - Published on Amazon.com
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. Eisenhower appears only a few times, but each time he introduces a theme of the novel: family, the inevitability of loss, and the terrible costs of war. And the author shines in his characterization of Billy, who at the start of his tale is simultaneously cocky yet unsure of himself in this brand new milieu; as his investigation continues, he learns the lessons of war, and of family, of true bravery, and of manhood.

The various settings are perfectly detailed, whether in bombed-out London, at an English country house, or in a newly-built mess hall in England, so new that the sawdust from its construction still lies in straight lines on the ground nearby. Likewise, dialogue is true to the period, yet never trite.

This is a fine book, with an engaging hero. It is suspenseful, often charming, and always thoughtful, right up to its exciting denouement. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AS GOOD AS IT GETS... Oct. 4 2006
By Alex from Houston - Published on Amazon.com
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.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad for a quick read Oct. 14 2006
By Brian Torsney - Published on Amazon.com
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.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WWII action plus mystery...who can ask for more? Dec 27 2008
By Neal C. Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment but with hope for better things to come... Aug. 26 2007
By W. Dobson - Published on Amazon.com
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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