Friday, August 2, 2013

"Billy Boyle" by James R. Benn

(cover image from

Billy Boyle (2006) by James R. Benn is a mystery set during World War II, and the first in a series with the title character, a young Boston detective.

Billy Boyle has hardly ever been outside of South Boston, where he lives surrounded by his large Irish family, most of them cops. He grew up wanting to be a cop, and nepotism has served him well. He became a detective, in fact, because his family slipped him the answers to the test questions.

After Pearl Harbor, it's pretty clear that young Boston cops will be drafted, so his family works to keep him safe. (In particular, as IRA supporters, none of them have any desire to fight for the English.) They pull strings to get him into officer candidate school - where he graduates dead last - and then to get him a staff position in Washington, or so they think.

In reality, 'Uncle Ike' is General Dwight D. Eisenhower, newly appointed to command the U.S. Army in Europe, so Billy ends up on a plane to London, pretty much the last place he wants to be, especially during the Blitz. Pretty soon, he gets involved in the hunt for a spy and for a murderer - not necessarily the same person.

Billy isn't a particularly impressive young man, but he's not a bad cop. And although he'd only been a detective for three days before Pearl Harbor, it turns out that he isn't completely useless at that, either. Well, he grew up listening to his homicide detective father (if not paying as much attention as he wishes now).

I guess the way to put it is that he's not nearly as useless as he seems at first. And he's not a bad kid, either. His prejudice against the English doesn't last long in London, and he makes some surprising new friends.

If you know much history of World War II, you might guess the answer to the mystery of the spy, at least in part. But the murder doesn't stop with just one, and that was both unexpected and tragic. The tragedy of war is clearly shown here, too. This might be a light-weight, even humorous, mystery, but it definitely has a serious side.

Billy is an appealing character who becomes even more likeable as time goes by. The murder mystery was fine (but I read mysteries for the characters, not for the mystery). I didn't particularly like Billy's actions at the end of the book, but... I don't know. I'm a sucker for World War II stories.

All in all, I really enjoyed this. I'll definitely be continuing with the series.

Note: My other book reviews are here.

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