Billy Boyle


James R. Benn


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 24, 2023

illy Boyle is the first volume in a series of mystery novels set in World War II. There are currently another sixteen books in the series, so I doubt that I will complete this series (If all seventeen books take place while WWII rages from 1942-1945, Billy is going to be a busy man!) I admire people who can stay focused to plough through a long series, I personally get distracted by other titles and authors. (After several years of intermittent reading, I am still only up to book eight of the Brother Cadfael mysteries). However, Billy Boyle was interesting enough that I will see if the second book, The First Wave is available in our library system.

It is August 1942. Young Billy Boyle enlisted in the days following Pearl Harbor, and was sent to Officer Candidate School - upon graduation, Boyle finds himself ordered to England. Billy's uncle is none other than Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces in the European theater. Instead of a state-side desk job, Billy finds himself flown to England where he is to become a Private Investigator (although he is young, Billy made detective in the Boston Police force just three days before Pearl Harbor - and yes, it helped a lot that his father was a powerful, respected detective on the Boston force.) When he gets to England, Billy (who had never left Boston prior to the start of the war) is informed that there is possibly a German spy in the allied camp. This is especially dangerous, since the Allies are plotting Operation Jupiter, which will wrest control of Norway back from the Nazi forces. If their plans become known, then obviously the entire attack will be compromised.

Billy is sent to Beardsley Hall, where King Haakon resides as he leads the government of Norway-in-exile. When the Norwegian government fled the Nazi invasion, all the gold (8 tons worth) was taken from the treasury and loaded onto ships bound for England. The gold safely escaped, though two crates went missing in the chaos. Two crates of gold would make someone a very wealthy man - is there a gold thief amongst the Norwegian forces?

Billy acquires two aides to help him with his investigation - the beautiful Second Officer Daphne Seaton, and her love interest, the Polish baron Lt. Piotr “Kaz” Kazimierz. Kaz is wealthy and handsome, but he lost his entire family during the invasion of Poland. All three of them are young and short on experience, but they gamely head to Beardsley Hall, where the Americans are scheduled to present the invasion plans to the Norwegian king and his staff. Billy takes part in a training exercise with the Norwegians. Billy joins mock forces that are issued nothing but blank rounds and pretend to repel an assault by the Norwegians. There is noise and shouting as everyone fires their blanks - until a live round strikes a tree right beside Billy's head! Splinters are embedded in Billy's face, but fortunately his eyesight is not damaged. How fortunate that the accidental live round did not actual hit him! No one knows who fired, everyone was shooting their blanks...

The next morning, one of the high ranking officials on King Haakon's staff commits suicide by throwing himself out of a fourth story window. Knut Birkeland writes a suicide note before he killed himself, and leaves a gold coin next to the note. It appears that Knut felt guilty about stealing Norwegian gold, and killed himself in a bit of remorse. Case closed, right? Though he is inexperienced, Billy's dad taught him a few things about being a detective, and Billy wonders if what he has a murder investigation on his hands in addition to his hunt for the potential German spy.

There is a lot of "clash of cultures" in this book, as Billy tries to understand British customs. The Boyle's are Irish-American, and so his family harbors a lot of antipathy toward the English - though Daphne Seaton certainly is attractive! Alas, Daphne has eyes only for the baron. Billy's Polish sidekick, Kaz, is especially amused by American expressions such as "get the skinny", "keep it under your hat" or "the low-down". Billy has a brash American approach, ignorant of class distinctions and the finer points of respectable behavior. Not that Billy cares - he asks blunt questions in a manner that some of the Europeans find rude.

Benn's research seems to be solid, I am no World War II scholar, but everything seemed right to me. It wouldn't surprise me if Benn had looked up the actual English weather for the dates that Billy is in action (it always seems to be soggy and damp!)

The only thing about Billy Boyle that struck me is out of place was the fact that Dwight Eisenhower is Billy's uncle. Ike grew up in one of those central plains states - Iowa? Kansas? Nebraska? - so how is it that he has a nephew and relatives in Boston? I know it is theoretically possible, but cross-country travel before WWII was quite limited.