And each time I pick up a new Billy Boyle, I confirm all over again: There's a lot more to even this relatively recent global conflict than most of us realize. In Benn's hands, the surprising details take on new life. And the plot twists? Complex, and intriguing.
In THE DEVOURING, Benn sends Captain Billy Boyle and his friend Kaz into supposedly neutral Switzerland in the final year of World War II, as the Allies are becoming sure of eventually winning the war. But as Billy and Kaz learn, winning won't be as sweet if the Nazi leaders manage to escape justice -- and carry off their murder-related loot in the process.
What are a Boston-born Irish cop and a Polish baron doing in a shepherd's abandoned cottage in southeastern France? The short answer is, wartime makes strange companions. Readers of this series know the intricacies of Billy's recruitment by General Eisenhower to be the crime-solving part of the American leadership's staff, and of the tragic murders of Kaz's family members and the various twists that brought these two men together (including the women they love). Enjoying the first 11 books will certainly add depth and perspective to reading THE DEVOURING, but Benn's a strong enough storyteller that newcomers to the series will be able to step right into the action. Here's Billy Boyle's explanation of the situation as the book opens, for him and Kaz:
Last night we'd had a rendezvous with an SOE Lysander. Special Operations Executive, that is. Lysanders are SOE's preferred means to ferry agents in and out of occupied France. We'd expected to be taken back to London after our last assignment, but someone had a better idea: send the two of us to the Swiss border, smuggle us across, and then have us make contact with the OSS, a different group of highly dangerous letters. The Office of Strategic Services was an American outfit, modeled after the SOE Why they wanted us in neutral Switzerland, I had no clue, but I did have hopes it would be a rest cure in a peaceful nation.Well, scratch those hopes. Not only will the border crossing be much more risky than Billy and Kaz expected, but the neutral Swiss turn out to be well enmeshed with a lot of German officers hanging around, and the mission turns out to involve tracking some of those in a very dangerous way.
The intriguing aspect that separates Benn's World War II fiction from many another war tale is Billy Boyle's detective skills, with the expectation that he'll solve crimes along the way. Consider Billy's approach to a murder that affects their mission:
Kaz went to find the inspector, and I stood still, studying the room, trying to get a read on what had happened here. [The victim] was the one who wanted to leave the reception first. Now it was evident why. Maybe his date was already here, waiting. They drink some wine, do some cavorting, and then what? Sleep? Or does she go home? I couldn't really find a decent hiding place, not one that would have stood up to the concerted search that had gone on here.The book's title comes from a Gypsy, or Sinti, expression for how the Nazi forces were eradicating this relatively landless people of Europe before and during the war, and Billy and Kaz find themselves repeatedly depending on the skills of a very angry and desolate member of that group, Anton Lasho. Will Lasho's anger and recklessness be assets to the mission -- or put the investigators at deadly risk themselves?
Or maybe the dame was part of the setup.
Benn adds an espionage-related "dame" to the complex plot, as well as a heartbreaking visit to a prisoner camp in "neutral" Switzerland. Not everything will be resolved by the end of the book -- but that's part of the structure of an effective series, isn't it? I could hardly wait for THE DEVOURING to become available (it hits the stores on Sept. 12 and can be pre-ordered). Count me as a fan of this series for its friendships, quirks of personality, unusual details about the war, and of course the pursuit of crime-solving throughout. I'm in no hurry for the fictional war years to reach an end!
From Soho Crime (Soho Press), as are the other 11 in the series -- and at the moment, the publisher is offering 40% off when ordering those entire 11:
Book 1: BILLY BOYLE
Book 2: THE FIRST WAVE
Book 3: BLOOD ALONE
Book 4: EVIL FOR EVIL
Book 5: RAG AND BONE
Book 6: A MORTAL TERROR
Book 7: DEATH’S DOOR
Book 8: A BLIND GODDESS
Book 9: THE REST IS SILENCE
Book 10: THE WHITE GHOST
Book 11: BLUE MADONNA
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.