Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review of Billy Boyle by James Benn (Soho Press, 2006)

A young Irish-American Boston cop, Billy Boyle’s family has a unique strategy to see him serve out the Second World War safely state-side – get him assigned to the staff of his Washington-based Uncle Ike.  However, by the time Billy has gone through basic training his uncle, General Eisenhower, is in London in charge of the Allied forces.  Billy arrives in the city to work as a personal detective for his uncle and is immediately put to work to find a spy in the Norwegian government-in-exile before a planned Allied invasion of the country takes place.  Aware of his shortcomings, but determined to make his mark, Billy travels to Beardsley Hall in Norfolk, accompanied by his acerbic, doubtful boss, a beautiful and ambitious British WREN, and an aristocratic Polish officer who has a gift for languages.  All is not well in the Norwegian government, which is strained by in-fighting, and shortly after his arrival an attempt is made on Billy’s life.  Soon he is investigating murder and putting his fledgling detective skills to the test.

Billy Boyle is the first book in a series of Second World War mysteries featuring the Irish-American cop turned war detective.  The premise behind the series is a good one – knowing that he’s likely to be called up to serve, a family uses it network to find a cop an easy, safe ride through the war, not anticipating that their plan is going to back fire when Uncle Ike is transferred from Washington to London.  Billy’s role is to act as the personal detective for General Eisenhower, solving crimes that might harm the war effort.  Benn’s strategy is to tell the tale as a kind of boy’s adventure for adults, with lots of dare-doing and mystery.  It works quite well, especially since Billy is reasonably self-depreciating, knowing his limitations.  The plot is a little fanciful, as one might expect, and sometimes it’s a little stilted.  And certain bits do not make a lot of sense, for example, a Norwegian living with other Norwegians leaving a suicide note in English.  Moreover, the first person perspective can get a little tiring at times, with an over-use of I, we, us, etc.  But otherwise it’s quite good fun, mixing adventure with pathos.  I’ll no doubt try another in the series at some point.


Yvette said...

I liked this first book in the series too, Rob. I especially like Billy's aristocratic Polish friend. I've read several more in the series and enjoyed them.

Gerard Saylor said...

I have enjoyed the series quite a bit but the earlier ones are not as well done. Benn always picks something a little more obscure from WWII history to plot each novel

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks for the assurance that the series is worth sticking to, though it's a shame that the books pick up later in the series as I like to try and read in order.