Friday, November 29, 2019

Review of The First Wave by James R Benn (2007, Soho Press)

Lieutenant Billy Boyle and his boss, Major Samuel Harding, are in the first wave of the invasion of Algeria, tasked with riding ahead of the US Army and trying to persuade the opposing French Vichy troops to surrender without out fight. His quest doesn’t quite go to plan and they are met by French Fascists loyal to Petain and Nazi Germany. As they are thrown in jail, Boyle witnesses local French resistance members being rounded up, including his former girlfriend, Diane, an SOE agent. A few hours later they are released and soon have their hands full investigating a murder and theft at a field hospital. Boyle hasn’t forgotten about Diane though and when an opportunity is presented to go and rescue her he sets off in pursuit.

The First Wave is the second book in the Billy Boyle series set in World War Two. Boyle is a former Boston cop and a nephew of General Eisenhower, on whose staff he serves as an investigator. In this outing he is selected to run a mission to persuade French Vichy troops in Algeria to surrender rather than fight landing American troops. Along with Kaz, his Polish colleague, and his boss, Major Sam Harding, he’s soon turning his investigative skills to a murder at an army hospital and the theft of the first batch of penicillin in circulation, as well as tracing the whereabouts of Diane, his former girlfriend turned SOE agent in Algiers. The story is very much a boy’s own adventure, with Boyle swashbuckling his way around Algiers and the dusty coastal strip, doing battle with French fascists and a rotten apple in the US Army. Benn spins a couple of different threads that intersect at times, and keeps the pace high making sure there’s an action sequence every ten pages or so. The plot is a little thin at times and is held together with spider web of coincidences – especially with respect to characters knowing each other prior to this adventure and being involved in it (because in a global war a number of people from different services, two of them ex-girlfriends, will find themselves in the same spot and conspiracy). But if one can put the shortcomings on a back burner, then it’s a reasonably entertaining Hollywood Romantic/Action version of the initial invasion of North Africa.

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