Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Archer Mayor, THE PRICE OF MALICE: A must-have Joe Gunther Police Procedural

The twentieth Joe Gunther crime novel slipped quietly into the spotlight yesterday, as Minotaur Books released THE PRICE OF MALICE a few days before its scheduled "October" debut. Hurrah! This is the one we've been waiting for -- not just because it's number 20 in the series, not just because once you get acquainted with Joe and his team you've got to get the next book, and not just because it's a good swift read. Here's the best part: THE PRICE OF MALICE builds on number 19, THE CATCH, and spins intensity and sense out of the situations that Archer Mayor set up in that Maine-oriented story.

It will come as no surprise to Gunther fans that Joe is having trouble with his intimate relationship again, as THE PRICE OF MALICE opens. His mellow and promising times with barkeeper Lyn Silva sailed onto nasty rocks during THE CATCH, as Joe's drug and murder investigations led him to exhuming part of Lyn's family history. Discouraged and distanced, Lyn's left Brattleboro without telling Joe. It makes a tough platform for this Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI) chief -- how can you trust yourself and your judgment, when the people you most care about keep walking out of your life?

The opening chapter steps inside another relationship, one that's kept Joe and his readers intrigued: the offbeat but pretty successful domestic partnership of foul-mouthed and stubborn Willy Kunkle and hard-working Sammie Martens, the lone woman on Joe's team. You can see what ties them together when the mention of "homicide" in a middle-of-the-night phone call cheers them both and sends them scrambling for their clothes. And the discovery that the victim is a suspected child predator makes them more satisfied, as it suits their sense of justice. The trouble is, they're also determined to catch the murderer, even if he or she had a darned good reason for turning to crime.

When Joe's efforts to steer his team are repeatedly interrupted by a lingering drugs and border manipulation and his girlfriend starts taking risks that involve him, the VBI chief lets down his team by being in all the wrong places at the moments when their complex hunt turns dangerous. Archer Mayor spins the scenes sharply and intensely, and keeps both Joe and the action on the run.

If you like THE CATCH, you'll love what this sequel does with what you absorbed from that one -- and if you weren't sure you wanted to adapt to Joe Gunther pursuing criminals off the coast of Maine, THE PRICE OF MALICE will convince you that the wider pattern adds up to quite a tale.

Check for author events; Mayor will be racing around for this one!

Calendar Alert: Poets Annie Finch and Lisa Olstein, October 1, Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Thursday, Oct. 1st, 2009 at 7:30 pm, poets ANNIE FINCH and LISA OLSTEIN will read from their work, kicking off the Collected Poets Series' new season.

Free. Mocha Maya's Coffee House, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370, 413-625-6292. Wheelchair accessible. See for more information.

Annie Finch (left-hand photo, above) is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism. Her books of poetry include Eve, Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, and the forthcoming Among the Goddesses: A Narrative Libretto. Her music, art, and theater collaborations include two operas. Her poems appear in anthologies, textbooks, and journals including Agni, Fulcrum, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, and Yale Review, and her books on poetics include A Formal Feeling Comes, An Exaltation of Forms, The Ghost of Meter, The Body of Poetry, and the forthcoming A Poet’s Craft. Annie's book of poetry, Calendars, was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award and in 2009 she was awarded the Robert Fitzgerald Award. She has performed her poetry across the U.S. and in England, France, Greece, Ireland, and Spain. She earned a BA from Yale University, a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and a PhD in English from Stanford University. Annie lives in Maine where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program of the University of Southern Maine.

Lisa Olstein (right-hand photo, above) is the author of Lost Alphabet (Copper CanyonPress, 2009), Radio Crackling, Radio Gone (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), winner of the Hayden Carruth Award. Cold Satellite, an album of songs based on her poems and lyrics, is forthcoming from singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Centrum. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Iowa Review, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere. A contributing editor of jubilat, with Dara Wier and Noy Holland, Lisa co-founded the Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts & Action at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is Associate Director of MFA Program for Poets and Writers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vermont Police Procedural: THE ERRAND BOY, Don Bredes

The third Hector Bellevance police procedural THE ERRAND BOY releases next week, and it's an intriguing addition to the world of Vermont crime fiction. Don Bredes isn't just targeting the leftover back-to-landers and close-to-the-border drug handlers that populate his fictional state -- he's also laying out the conflicts of jurisdiction that take place so often in a rural region, where local police get brushed aside by county or state investigators. And heaven help us all when the federal agents step in.

But Hector Bellevance, town constable, knows Tipton better than any outsider could. When a youthful driver, Sebastian Tuttle, careens out of control toward Hector and his pregnant wife Wilma (yep, the same one he had such a hard time courting in Cold Comfort and The Fifth Season), Hector manages to push Wilma out of the way just in time, and takes the glancing impact of the car on himself. But -- disastrously -- Wilma lands with her head on a concrete slab and the impact does enough damage to put her into a coma.

When Hector, half crazed by the injury to his wife, tracks down the driver and his brother, murder cuts into the mess. Soon the proximity of the Canada border, the nastiness of factory farming (picture thousands of confined chickens, laying eggs and depositing, er, manure), and competition for breaking open a drug cartel complicate the life that Hector and Wilma and their 11-year-old daughter Myra have, where harvesting the beans and raspberries and getting them to market has to take priority over anything, yes, anything else. But now Hector is minus Wilma's help, and Myra takes to sitting at the hospital trying to get her mom to respond. So Hector's first level of panic is purely practical, local, and rural:
Myra hadn't brought in a quarter of the beans. Eighty feet of spinach needed cutting or it would bolt. The early raspberries would be dropping off the canes in another downpour. I had a round of deliveries to make tomorrow -- the beans and lettuces and spinach, plus trays of arugula, mesclun, basil, broccoli, dill, beet greens, and chard, none of them picked. And the raspberries. I had tomatoes to mulch, and asparagus, beets, leeks, onions, cabbages, and carrots to weed.

I had to find help.

Neighbor Hugh Gebbie steps up in the crisis, and also keeps Myra company as Hector drives around looking for the criminals and uncovering their network. But Hugh's laid-back caretaking doesn't prevent Myra being kidnapped, and that's about all it takes to push Hector into acting like a rogue police officer as he races to rescue his daughter.

Of course, he has folks he knows to ask about shady dealings. It's just a pity that he's trusting Kandi Henderson. She keeps showing that she's not the person he's always wanted her to be. Will he see her clearly enough, before innocent people are added to the criminals dying in the crisis?

Bredes has crafted a tightly plotted crime novel with local color that's vivid and often poignant, and his handling of Hector's midlife parenting and job-blending rings painfully true. Perhaps some officers would spend more time with an unconscious, hospitalized wife, or would keep their young daughter further away from the tasks of community policing -- yet Hector's choices reflect the character he's shown in the two previous novels, and when the strands of tension finally crest and resolve, the risks and losses are well balanced with what Hector and his friends and family can achieve.

Hurrah for this long-awaited Vermont tale!

[Looking for more info on Bredes? Click here.]

Monday, September 14, 2009

Calendar Alerts: Poetry

Pine Manor College announces that the application deadline for the spring 2010 semester of the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program is November 16, 2009 (not a postmark date; materials must be received by our offices before or on November 16). The spring 2010 semester begins with our winter residency, January 1 to January 10. For detailed program information and a downloadable application form, go to:

Fiction writer and Solstice MFA writer-in-residence Dennis Lehane will be appearing (along with Solstice favorites Andre Dubus III and Tom Perrotta and a host of other luminaries) at the Boston Book Festival, scheduled for Saturday, October 24 in Copley Square, Boston. NOTE from Kingdom Books: The ONLY poet scheduled for the festival so far is Robert Pinsky.

Pine Manor MFA Director and poet Meg Kearney’s latest book, Home By Now, is available for preordering from Amazon and will be available in stores starting October 15. She will be giving readings throughout the fall, beginning with a reading on Sunday, September 27 at 3 p.m. at Del Rossi’s Trattoria, RR 137, Dublin, NH. 603-563-7195.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Calendar Alert: Poet Rita Dove, Vermont, Sept 25

Passed along for Major Jackson:

THE WRITERS' WORKSHOP & the Burlington Book Festival 2009 present
A Reading by Poet Laureate of the U.S. ('93-'95) and Pulitzer Prize Recipient, Rita Dove

8:00 - 8:45: Poetry Reading

About Sonata Mulattica

Sonata Mulattica is a book-length narrative poem, which follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Rita Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius and explores the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.

from The New Yorker
Dove’s verse sequence re-creates the life of the biracial violinist George Bridgetower, best remembered for being the first performer, and the initial dedicatee, of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. (Beethoven replaced his humorous dedication to the “lunatic and mulatto” after quarrelling with him, apparently over a woman.) A virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life, the poems use all registers—nursery rhymes, diary entries, drama—and are stuffed with historical and musical arcana. Yet the book remains highly accessible, reading much like a historical novel. Dove is fascinated by Bridgetower’s life as a black musician and occasionally implies parallels with the world of jazz and rap, but the issue of race does not predominate. She is concerned equally with the status of musicians in a world of precarious patronage—even Haydn, at the Esterhazy estate, has “no more leave / to step outside the gates / than a prize egg-laying hen”—and with “the radiant web” of music itself.


Dear Friends & Colleagues:

I am delighted to announce the appearance in Vermont of Pulitzer-prize poet Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States and author of nine volumes of poetry including her latest collection Sonata Mulattica, published by W.W. Norton this year.

Ms. Dove will read on Friday, September 25, shortly after the opening ceremony and festival dedication, which begins at 7pm in the Film House of the Main Street Landing Performance Arts Center. Rita Dove's visit is part of the Writers' Workshop Reading Series, which is sponsored by the James and Mary Brigham Buckham Fund and the Department of English.

About the Author

Rita Dove published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium", the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed — in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music — a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice", for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, published by W.W. Norton in the spring of 2009.

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Ms. Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the coveted Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan, and in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany.

She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, the writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.

Poets With Book-Length Manuscripts: Do You Know About the Colrain Conference?

I'm passing this info along for Ellen Doré Watson, a fine teacher, poet, and merry-hearted person. As the Quakers say, "If it speaks to your condition ..."

Next Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference: October 23-26

The Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference provides the faculty, connections, and method necessary to set poets with a completed manuscript or manuscript-in-process on a path towards publication. Includes workshops, consultations with press editors, evening poetry readings, editorial panel Q&A, and an after-conference strategy session. Faculty includes conference founder, Joan Houlihan, as well as Ellen Dore Watson, Director of the Smith Poetry Center, Fred Marchant, Director of the Suffolk Poetry Center, Jeffrey Levine, Publisher and Editor of Tupelo Press, and Martha Rhodes, Director of Four Way Books. For details on location, requirements and cost, please visit:

You may also...
Call: (978) 897-0054
Write: Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference
c/o Concord Poetry Center
40 Stow Street
Concord, MA 01742

Joan Houlihan, Director

Food for Thought: Stieg Larsson/Carol O'Connell

After setting aside ALL else this summer when the second Stieg Larsson Salander novel came out in the US (The Girl Who Played With Fire; a great sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), we're not posting a review just now -- there are so many already out there, and all the praise is well earned, right down to the terrific work in translating this series already well known in Sweden.

But a mention at Larsson's website compares Lisbeth Salander to Carol O'Connell's Malory, and I think it's a top-notch parallel. We've got lots of O'Connell, so I may backtrack to these in order to fill the longing for more Salander, until the final volume of the trilogy appears next year.

Titles To Read: Award Winners and Short Lists at the Crime Writers' Association (UK)

Speaking of Colin Cotterill ... he took one of the "Dagger" awards from the CWA in July:
The Crime Writers’ Association is delighted to announce the winners of the Dagger in the Library, International, Short Story and Debut Daggers:

Colin Cotterill has won the Dagger in the Library; writer Fred Vargas and translator Sîan Reynolds have triumphed in the International Dagger for the third time in four years; Sean Chercover has won the Short Story Dagger and Catherine O’Keefe the Debut Dagger.

See the CWA web site for more info.

Newly announced by the CWA last week, and also on my reading list for the fall (although I've read a few already):
The books shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger are When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, In the Dark by Mark Billingham, Hit and Run by Lawrence Block, A Whispered Name by William Brodrick, The Coroner by MR Hall and Dark Times In The City by Gene Kerrigan.

The books shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger are The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, The Last Child by John Hart, Calumet City by Charlie Newton, Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, and The Interrogator by Andrew Williams.

The books shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger are Sweetsmoke by David Fuller, Bad Catholics by James Green, No Way To Say Goodbye by Rod Madocks, Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, Echoes from The Dead by Johan Theorin and The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell.

PS: Calendar Alert, Louise Penny

Just so you know WHY Dave and I have been on a Louise Penny reading kick: She's coming to Vermont in October. Meet her at Bear Pond Books on October 27 or at The Norwich Bookstore on October 28.

Cozy or Cruel? Reflections on Good Crime Fiction

Dave and I have been on a binge of reading the mysteries of Louise Penny. Set in a Canadian village, and at first resembling a Miss Marple "village mystery" where everyone knows everyone else's business, they've been labeled "cozy" (even among the blurbs on the books!). But -- they're not.

Okay, that's a pretty bold assertion. The thing is, Dave and I completely agree about this. He won't read cozies unless there's an overwhelming "other" reason (he does collect the Harry Kemelman series, because he likes the subjects). And he struggled through the first fifty pages of Penny's STILL LIFE because of this. But suddenly he was declaring, "This is NOT a cozy," and making eager sounds as he turned the pages.

I enjoyed STILL LIFE, with its bizarre personalities and poigant cruelties. There, that's a word you won't find in a description of a cozy mystery: cruelties. In fact, Penny's second book, A FATAL GRACE, has me stalled at page 25, because the cruelties have already piled up to a level that raised the tension too high for my weekend. (Don't ask; if you've ever lived in a rural area at harvest season, you might have a guess at what my list of kitchen tasks is like just now...) In other words, if the level of vicious, nasty, twisted stuff being exposed in a mystery or suspense thriller gets in your face to the point where you think the characters are more and more likely to want a stiff drink or a well-tailored escape plan -- it's not a cozy. Nothing that Alfred Hitchcock directed was a cozy. Is this making sense?

So, with this long lead-in, I'm back to reconsidering Colin Cotterill's offering from this August, THE MERRY MISOGYNIST (Soho Crime). Here's what I wrote about Cotterill's series, last April:
So here's Colin Cotterill, providing a series about an elderly coroner working on disrespected remains in his confused and often corrupt city of Vientiane, Laos. It's 1978 and the "novice socialist republic" is squeezing the fun and color out of life. Dr. Siri Paiboun and his assistants, Nurse Dtui and the tongue-tied Mr. Geung, become increasingly stubborn about seeking justice for the deceased. And readers of the series know that Dr. Siri and the noodle seller Madame Daeng are waking up to an affectionate and humorous relationship that lets each of them be whole, and give wholly.

So why isn't THE MERRY MISOGYNIST a cozy, with so much affection and humor among the protagonists? I maintain it's because the crimes revealed in the book are actions of enormous cruelty.

Some of the chapter titles make this clear: Five Dead Wives; Dancing with Death; A Honeymoon in Hell. Siri and Inspector Phosy investigate a series of deaths that appear to be the work of a sexual sadist. Stopping the sequence requires the ability to think like a sadist -- and get ahead of the action. Complicating the sequence are appearances by the spirit of Siri's dead dog, Saloop. Although the dog and man had an affectionate relationship in life, Saloop isn't coming for friendly visits -- he's coming as a warning.
Siri had learned to observe rationally. There were times when he braved nightmares like a confident swimmer, knowing he'd end up on the bank unscathed. There were malignant ghosts like the Phibob of the forest who hounded Yeh Ming's spirit. They constantly hummed around him like vindictive wasps, waiting for a moment of weakness when they could sting. Had it not been for a sacred amulet at his neck, Siri would certainly not have made it to his second marriage. But the vast majority of spirits were harmless.

Siri sat on the saddle of his Triumph and shook his head as Saloop rose creakily on his dead legs.

This is the sixth in the Dr. Siri series, written by a London-born teacher and writer who now lives in Thailand. It's well worth visiting Cotterill's web site, too -- check out the results of a person who balances the dark side of crime fiction with a strong and well-aimed determination to do some good in Laos.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Claire Van Vliet, Black and White: Selected Works 1952-2009

Maple Ridge Gallery opened an exhibit today of the black-and-white works of Claire Van Vliet, the book artist whose Janus Press has transformed elegant paper into works of striking beauty.

Van Vliet's work in black and white, which is not part of her Janus collection, is most striking when she portrays the complexity of the natural world. From storms over the nearby hills, to windcaves in New Zealand, to the revelations of an Irish peat bog as the sea chews away the accumulation of centuries, the forms and their magic emerge in these prints -- some of them intaglio vitrographs the size of a window, summoning the forms of stone and sky.

I liked the way that the rocks became intricately layered as if they had grown with rings of age the way trees do. And I marveled at the brilliant white spaces set within the shadows and darkness.

Another facet of the show is Van Vliet's Kafka series.

Nancy Reid at Maple Ridge will continue the exhibit through November 9. Gallery hours at 1713 Maple Ridge Road, Newark, VT are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noon to six -- and by appointment (802-467-8400,

In the photo above: Claire Van Vliet, left, with gallery owner Nancy Reid.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

POEMS FROM THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT: The book, the reading (Sept 16, Amherst MA)

Poems from the Women’s Movement, a reading at Amherst College, on Wednesday 9/16/09, 7:30 pm, Cole Assembly Room in Converse Hall

There will be an event celebrating Poems From the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore and published by the Library of America, now in its second printing. Poets Joan Larkin and Honor Moore will read their poems and the work of others in the book. Several students from the Five Colleges will join them in reading poems from the anthology.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.” These lines by Muriel Rukeyser epitomize the spirit that animated a whole generation of women poets, from the 1960s to the 1980s, who in exploring the unspoken truth of their lives sparked a literary revolution.

Poems From the Women’s Movement, selected by O Magazine, is number 15 on Oprah’s Book Club summer reading list.

Joan Larkin’s newest book, My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press), received the Publishing Triangle’s 2008 Audre Lorde Award. Honor Moore’s recent memoir The Bishop’s Daughter was a finalist for a National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

The reading will be followed by a reception and booksigning. Sponsored by the Amherst College English Department and Creative Writing Program. Community co-sponsors include the Massachusetts Review, the Poetry Center at Smith College, Perugia Press, The Everywoman’s Center at the University of Massachusetts, and the Smith College Program for the Study of Women and Gender

Poet Marge Piercy in Vermont

Here are two opportunities to meet and hear this extraordinary activist poet while she's in Vermont: tonight (Wed. 9/9) at 7 p.m. at the St. Johnsbury (VT) School, and tomorrow (Thurs. 9/10) at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. Always call to confirm VSC readings -- usually at 8 pm in the lecture hall on Main Street, but often changing in terms of date, time, location (802-635-2727).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Billy Boyle Becomes a Top Mystery Series: James R. Benn's World War II Crime Fiction

Congratulations to Soho Crime author James R. Benn, whose newest Billy Boyle crime novel hit the ground running yesterday with an enthusiastic review from Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times.

If you haven't read the preceding three volumes, here's my take on them: Yes, this is a series that I think is best if you start at the beginning. But EVIL FOR EVIL, this year's volume, could be jumped into right away, for all the great material especially on Northern Ireland. At any rate, here are the other three, and maybe it will give you enough background to plunge directly into number four.

The series begins with BILLY BOYLE (2006). Consider Billy's situation -- he's a young Irish-American cop from Boston, following in the family business, and already the heir to plenty of his dad's stories about how things get done (good and bad). He knows that you use connections; that you accept a bit of grease for the wheels now and then; and that if you take too much, you won't be able to live well with the shame of it. Thanks to family connections, as World War II breaks out, Billy scoots off to office candidate school and expects a cushy stateside job in the office of his "Uncle Ike" -- not quite his uncle, but close enough, and better known at the time as Dwight D. Eisenhower. What neither Billy nor his family could have guessed, though, was that "Uncle Ike" would be suddenly picked to command the US Army forces in Europe. Ike sees Billy as his personal private investigator, able to track down criminal activity that could otherwise cripple operations -- and willing to keep it quiet and turn over the results to Ike for discrete and rapid action.

Billy's police background is real and potent, even though it's short; soon he's advising a buddy, Kaz, about how to question people and look for guilt, which is quite different from shock:
Guilt. I turned down a path in the garden, white roses hanging damp and heavy from thick shoots spiked with sharp thorns. Guilt will out, Dad used to say. Guilt will out, except if you're dealing with a crazy person. Normal people just couldn't keep guilt from showing, and all you had to do was know where to look for it. That was the hard part.
"Guilt has its own special look and sound."
"Sound? What do you mean?"
"A catch in the voice, an uplift in tone. You can hear it all the time if your listen. It doesn't even have to do with crime. It can be emotional." ...
"Are these the things a Boston detective thinks about on a case? Self-deception, guilt, the knife in the back?"
"Cops always look for things that are out of place. Very little things, which sometimes lead to bigger things, like why a knife in the back."

But there isn't a lot of time for talk, because Billy and Kaz are in the midst of plans for espionage and invasion. "It struck me how close I was to the center of everything, the historic first strike against the Nazis," Billy reflects as he finds out some of the unfolding plans. "I felt like I was ... important." Of course, most of the people around him don't agree -- he's a "kid" in all this, along with all the boys arriving from the States. Still, something inside him warms up to the adventure:
I was hooked. Just like I was hooked the first time I worked a homicide. I knew then that I was different from everyone else, set apart from the concerns of everyday life that swept everyone else forward, on a river of errands, work, dates, drinking, eating, and sleeping. I was going in a different direction, toward revelation and retribution, and there were damn few of us headed that way.

A few pages later, Billy inspects a body for signs of rigor mortis, explores clues, and discovers that he's got to become a successful spy catcher, or else let down Uncle Ike -- unthinkable.
But catching a spy will turn out to be far more direct an action than working through the complications of falling in love. Between Billy and Kaz, and two courageous British sisters, love and suspense become a fearsome tangle with tragedy hovering in the winds. This is war, after all. Billy may be able to solve the crime, but he can't prevent death and destruction from exploding all around him.

Brace for a swift change of geography and climate as Benn's second Billy Boyle unfolds in THE FIRST WAVE (2007): The scene is Algeria in North Africa, and the Vichy French are the wild card: As the US forces arrive and battle Rommel's Afrika Corps, will the French put their weight with the "liberators" or with the Nazi-led occupation? For Billy, the tasks of serving at the front are complicated hugely by the presence of Diana Seaton, the woman with whom he's deeply in love. When Diana is abducted, Billy's priorities take a forceful twist away from orders. He admits readily:
There's nothing like a corpse to put things into perspective. I was tired, but Jerome was dead. ... I would have thought he was still asleep except for his eyes. ... They seemed to seek me out, as if Jerome had a last message to pass one. All I got was a shover up my spine as I reched down and closed them. ... Two brothers dead for what they believed in when they both could have sat it out and played it safe.

Playing it safe isn't Billy's way, although it takes a war to help him realize this. He has friends to assist, and a rescue to mastermind. And even if he pulls of the rescue, will Diana already hate him for not arriving in time to protect her from humiliation, degradation, and powerful evil?

Yes, Diana, who is also a special agent, will re-appear in the third book, BLOOD ALONE (2008). But this time, Billy has a long way to go before he even remembers who she is and where he has left her: He's lost his memory, awakening in a field hospital in Sicily with a post-concussion amnesia. Long before he can even pull together his name and rank, or be sure of which side he's fighting on, he's a target of assassins. Why? What mission was he assigned to? And which group of deadly Sicilians is after him now? He's handicapped in part by how readily he sees even foreign people as like his own:
A wave of sadness passed over me. This village was awash in death, an everyday occurrence. Not from the war, but from a lifetime of killing labor and poverty. This was what my family had left Ireland to escape. This was what Sciafani couldn't escape, even with his position and education. The life of suffering of the peasant. It had descended upon him as he walked into the village, apologizing for the smell. It is better when it rains.

The basics of forensic analysis, the search for clues and motives, the revealing of how death is stalking its victims alongside the wholesale slaughter of war, these are Billy Boyle's tools, along with the sense of himself that he's brought along from Boston. Sure, these three volumes include great details of World War II, and of Eisenhower's work in the Allied command -- but they are first and foremost a deeply satisfying set of detective novels, with the sense of inner mystery and longing that enhances the best crime writing anywhere.

Kudos to James R. Benn, a librarian and media specialist and long-time World War II buff. By painting the human heart, he's opened the war to any reader who longs for a good story of "redemption and retribution."