The Billy Boyle novels
Starred Review: Publisher's Weekly on The Devouring:
"...suspenseful...Benn does his usual excellent job of incorporating historical background into a fast-paced plot, which barely slows down on the way to the satisfactory resolution."
"Benn's 12th World War II mystery keeps the action coming, with a nifty whodunit chaser."
"Benn molds an entertaining story out of Billy and his cohorts’ encounters with odious Swiss bankers and a cadre of Gestapo agents stationed in Bern to protect the loot. Great history here."
"Extensive historical and military contextual detail, copious suspense, plenty of action, and the innate politics of power are distinctive traits of this acclaimed World War II–set series....The theme of Swiss complicity with the Nazis and their profiteering is absorbing and should appeal to historical fiction fans, mystery readers, and military buffs."
"This is the twelfth installment of the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries, and these creations just keep getting better and better."
"A white-knuckle adventure from the start. . . In The Devouring, Benn has created yet another thoroughly entertaining historical mystery page-turner that is filled with bountiful amounts of action and adventure. His ability to bring fresh understanding to an already well written about period of history is refreshing."
—New York Journal of Books
“The Devouring is packed with the action we have come to expect from the Billy Boyle books. The combination of history, action and suspense in the Billy Boyle novels continues to be irresistible – it’s one of the best crime novel series.”
“This is the twelfth installment of the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries, and these creations just keep getting better and better.”
“Billy Boyle gets better and better. This is a must-read series.”
Blue Madonna: named one of the Top 25 novels of 2016 by The Strand Magazine!
“Benn's 11th Billy Boyle mystery has snappy dialogue, satisfying action scenes, and much interesting history about D-Day. ”
“The suspenseful story line, set on the eve of the Normandy invasion in 1944, will keep readers turning the pages ... Benn movingly depicts Nazi cruelties that Boyle and his comrades witness.”
“A non-stop action story that adds in the golden nugget of a really cool history lesson.”
"...the stuff of exciting fiction...By moving the action to Nazi-held France, Benn opens the story to the derring-do of the French Resistance: blowing bridges, hiding in tunnels, outfoxing Nazis, et al. This is a thoroughly entertaining, well-told war adventure..."
"...readers will be completely seduced by the series’ usual wit, fascinating historical details, and relentless action even as the cumulative toll of war on Boyle and company adds even more depth and complexity to the characters."
—Rick Koster, The Day (New London CT)
–BOOKLIST, starred review, on The White Ghost
Billy's 10th case (The Rest Is Silence, 2014, etc.) features a delicious premise, a full-bodied portrait of young JFK, and a beautifully textured look at military life in World War II.
Benn's tightly woven plotting shines here, along with his deft characterizations that allow him to show the inevitable disaster between Billy and the young JFK but also make room for gradual changes through the book. He has ample room in the black history of the Kennedy clan from those years, for framing both criminal and immoral circumstances. This is also a great opportunity for Benn to highlight Billy and Kaz as a team isolated from their usual supports, working out the lay of the land (and water) in this military-overrun seascape.
-Beth Kannell, Kingdom Books
A BLIND GODDESS
The eighth adventure in Benn’s engaging WWII series finds recently promoted Captain Billy Boyle, special investigator for General Eisenhower, assigned to find the killer of a seemingly ordinary citizen in a country village. An odd assignment for a military man, made odder by the fact that Billy has been given orders not to investigate the German family who run the boarding house where the victim lived. Meanwhile, Billy has reconnected with an old friend from Boston, a black man called Tree, a sergeant in a tank destroyer unit. There is bad blood between Billy and Tree, but Tree puts that aside to ask for Billy’s help in freeing a friend from his unit, wrongly accused of killing an Englishman. Juggling both cases, Billy finds himself in the middle of a simmering racial conflict between the black soldiers stationed in the area and their white counterparts, who resent the fact that the blacks have been warmly received by the English....Benn’s thoroughly researched exploration of segregation in the wartime armed services is revealing and sensitively handled. Another nice mix of human drama and WWII history.
Starred Review, Publisher's Weekly:
Pervasive racism in the U.S. Army during WWII frames Benn’s excellent eighth Billy Boyle whodunit (after 2012’s Death’s Door). In March 1944, Billy receives an appeal from an old estranged friend, Sgt. Eugene “Tree” Jackson. A member of Tree’s “colored” battalion has been arrested for the murder of Thomas Eastman, an English policeman, who was found with his head bashed in on his father’s grave in the village of Chilton Foliat. Tree is positive that the accused was mistakenly arrested. Boyle wants to help, but he’s pulled away into another homicide investigation west of London in which MI5 has an interest. The intelligence service’s role may be related to the fact that the victim’s landlords were two Germans who fled their native country because they opposed the Nazis. The superior plot and thoughtful presentation of institutional racism directed against American soldiers about to risk their lives for their country make this one of Benn’s best.
"Elaborately plotted, Benn's eighth entry in the series (after Death's Door) has his World War II sleuth investigating a deplorable side of U.S. military history, His use of an ongoing narrative throughout the book to explain Billy and Tree's backstory is particularly well done."
The eighth novel in the Billy Boyle WWII mystery series, A BLIND GODDESS, examines racism and segregation in the US Army. It was long-listed for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Literary Award for 2015.
This seventh mystery in Benn’s historical series finds Billy Boyle, a Boston police detective turned Allied intelligence agent, awaiting orders in southern Italy early in 1944. He and Kaz, his Polish partner, are ordered to Rome to investigate the death of an American monsignor in the neutral Vatican. Boyle also has an ulterior motive in that the woman he loves has been captured by the Nazis and is being held in Rome. Disguised as priests, the two agents make their way to Rome and soon find that the Vatican is full of escaped POWs and other refugees from the German occupation. Everyone has an agenda, and motives are hidden under layers of piety and diplomacy. VERDICT Benn has obviously done his research; the authentic details of Roman life during wartime add to the tension without overloading the reader. A couple of cameos by real historical figures also are handled well. In addition to series fans, this will appeal to readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers with a dramatic setting such as the Second World War.
"...intriguing...Benn’s nuanced portrayal of Vatican politics will keep readers turning the pages."
From the Mysterious Review:
"The 'Billy Boyle, World War II' mysteries are among the most consistently well written and researched crime novels published today, and are highly recommended."
"This seventh installment may have the most intriguing premise yet…teeming with dramatic possibilities. Vatican City proves a compelling setting, awash in internal politics and straddling gingerly its tenuous status as neutral territory…the history and the many real-life characters add up to great reading…"
A MORTAL TERROR
The Wall Street Journal praises A MORTAL TERROR:
"...a fast-paced saga set in a period when the fate of civilization still hangs in the balance. As Boyle reflects after a fleeting assignation with his English girlfriend, an always-in-danger secret agent: 'We laughed, but I can't say we were happy...We slept, but could not rest.'"
Mystery Scene magazine:
"a thrilling, fast-paced book...Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole".
"masterful...well-crafted...vivid...a great read"
Independent Mystery Booksellers Association:
IMBA names A MORTAL TERROR a "Killer Book"
Library Journal STARRED Review:
War has taken its toll on First Lt. Billy Boyle, and he’s not alone in his misery. It’s January 1944, and he’s trying to figure out why he has been dispatched to Naples in his sixth outing (after Rag and Bone). If you’re new to the series, Billy, a police detective back home, works for his Uncle Ike (yes, that Ike) as a military private investigator. Simply put, the general trusts Billy because he’s family. In this captivating episode, a serial killer from the inside (dubbed the Red Heart Killer because he leaves playing cards on his victims) is targeting Allied officers, moving systematically up the ranks, and it’s getting pretty tense in the officers’ quarters. Billy is under the gun to find the madman before he runs out of cards. VERDICT Jump right in with this winner of a historical detective entry; don’t worry if you haven’t read all the others (I hadn’t). Benn does a superb job of simultaneously capturing the personal anguish of war and creating a splendid adventure novel.
The September issue of Booklist says A MORTAL TERROR is:
"Solid wartime adventure, well grounded in historical detail, and boasting a challenging mystery to boot."
"A thrilling, fast-paced book..." Mystery Scene Magazine.
The Billy Boyle books from James R Benn are among a small group that go right to the top of the reading pile. The latest, RAG AND BONE (SOHO) is...another terrific read...Taut pacing and great characters make this series great and this is a wonderful addition to the body of work Benn is creating.
New York Times Book Review - "scenes of London under siege are stark and poignant...a clever series".
Starred Review, Publisher's Weekly:
"Uncle Ike" (aka General Eisenhower) personally pins silver first lieutenant bars on Billy Boyle in Benn's stellar fifth WWII mystery...Benn excels at depicting the impact of war on London--the bricks from bombed buildings piled neatly on the streets, families living in Tube stations, "the odor of the Blitz." Destruction aside, Billy never forgets that "Even in the midst of war, murder is unacceptable."
BOOKPAGE: RAG & BONE MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
Graceful plotting, a strong supporting cast and a modern take on ’40s dialogue all come together to make the Billy Boyle series one of the finest—perhaps the finest—of contemporary period mysteries. This is not James R. Benn’s first Mystery of the Month; odds are good it won’t be his last.
Benn shrewdly combines the political cat-and-mouse game with the murder investigation, offering a fascinating glimpse of the wartime
intelligence world (Allies spying on Allies) and how it laid the groundwork for the Cold War. In addition, his portrayals of the individual lives affected by the global machinations reflect an almost Graham Greene–like feel for nuance.
"An utterly splendid novel."
"A twisting, turning plot drives Benn’s gripping fourth WWII mystery to feature Lt. Billy Boyle . . . As an Irish-American whose family is sympathetic to the Republican cause, Billy struggles to remain impartial as he investigates the various factions on both sides of the Catholic-Protestant divide. Benn offers no easy answers in this rich mix of Irish history and wartime intrigue."—Publishers Weekly
"Benn handles the Irish question effectively, giving context to the “troubles” and capably showing how WWII introduced an explosive new element to an already volatile situation... this remains an entertaining series based on fascinating historical premises."
— Bill Ott, BOOKLIST
The Yanks don’t do war like the Brits, and James R. Benn’s World War II mysteries are a case in point. In the first three novels in this lively (and surprisingly thoughtful) adventure series, Benn’s hero, Lt. Billy Boyle, a rookie Irish cop from South Boston, was still a “rosy-cheeked youth” under the protection of his distant relative, “Uncle Ike,” who sent him on exciting secret missions where he made exotic friends. It was dangerous, but it was also a lot of fun. Billy is still the charmer in EVIL FOR EVIL (Soho, $25), which lands him in a United States Army arms depot in Northern Ireland, investigating the theft of a shipment of 50 high-powered rifles. But war can take the romance out of boyish ideals, and Billy’s loyalties to his ancestral sod are tested when he finds himself working with British and Ulster authorities on a tip that the I.R.A. stole the weapons, possibly with German help. Characters as distinctive as their fine-tuned slang walk Billy through the thickets of this treacherous political landscape. Only when he’s made peace with his conflicted soul (“I felt guilty, wishing God hadn’t given me the sense to see two sides of a thing”), can he recognize this divided country for what it is: home.
—Mariltn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
"Benn continues to create fascinating behind-the-lines mysteries from little-known facets of World War II history ... Benn combines the mystery element with a fair amount of frontline battle scenes. The combination makes for a fast-paced mix of action, adventure, and crime solving … Historical detail about the Sicily campaign will grab WWII buffs. A solid series that keeps getting better."
--Bill Ott, Booklist
"James Benn is a wonderful writer, and Blood Alone is terrific."
Immediately engaging...Blood Alone is an intriguing blend of history and fiction, superbly crafted and paced, easily the best period mystery I've read in quite some time.
—Bruce Tierney, Bookpage, September 2008
...a well-engineered tale...with a keen eye on details...the best of a war story as well as a mystery. Thoroughly enjoyable, and recommended.
—Crimespree Magazine, October 2008
In war-torn Sicily, a sleuthing soldier risks life and limb to crack a baffling mystery...Billy's determination to learn the truth takes him into the heart of Sicily's complex criminal dynasty, as deadly as the encroaching German army. Another bracing cocktail of period action with a whodunit chaser from the increasingly authoritative Benn.
THE FIRST WAVE
“James Benn has managed to not only write a first rate mystery, but also convey very accurately an era from history. Benn's Billy Boyle mysteries are always entertaining, filled with riveting characters, and beautifully plotted stories.... Benn's research is admirable and the expert way in which he uses this historical data to tell a riveting story is brilliant. The story has the feel of an old time adventure story, and Benn's marvelous dialogue brings the characters to life... I dare you not to read the other six novels. Historical mysteries just don't get any better than this. ”
“Benn has obviously done his research...In addition to series fans, this will appeal to readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers with a dramatic setting such as the Second World War. ”
"Benn's novel flashes through the mind like celluloid images of Leslie Howard, Greer Garson and Peter Lorre"
"The foggy seas and echoing cannons of World War II have long lured mystery writers. Against this backdrop, Ken Follett and John le Carre built their reputations....James Benn conjures up the intensity, paranoia, strength and sadness that marked the era and secures his own standing in the genre."
- Hartford Courant, October 29, 2006
"If you enjoy World War II mysteries...you'll love this book. It's a whodunit, a spy story and a thriller all rolled into one. Told in a crisp, breezy first-person narrative, Billy Boyle makes excellent use of Benn's extensive research into time and place. The realistic dialogue pulls you even further into the action. All in all, this is one of the best books I've read this year."
- Mystery Scene magazine, Fall 2006
"Deftly plotted and beautifully written...it's rich in historical detail; it's a thrilling mystery; and the characters are fully realized, each with their own plot line and back story."
- Crime Spree Magazine, Fall/Winter 2006
"Souvenir by James R. Benn is an enthralling study of the wounds left by war, age, and secrets. Horrific, beautiful, and constantly surprising, this novel haunts me still." - Stuart Neville, award-winning author of The Ghosts of Belfast, Stolen Souls, and So Say The Fallen.
If you love World War II stories, mystery, and intrigue, this novel is for you. Well written, thought provoking, and real to life. A story you will remember for a long time to come. The ending may well stay with you forever. Truly recommended! From the Midwest Book Review
The 2018 Al Blanchard Award-winning short story The Horse Chestnut Tree is included in the LANDFALL anthology of New England crime fiction, published by Level Best Books.
–The New York Times
“The perfect holiday gift for mystery fans.”
–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Highly recommended reading. With settings on nearly every continent, taking place from the Middle Ages to the present, and written by authors of all ages and nationalities, it is anything but usual.”
“What these Christmas crime stories have in common is the deep humanity at the core of crime — the ugliness, the anxiety, the generosity; all the impulses that move people to action, big and small.... fertile ground for crime fiction, on Christmas as on any other day.”