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Friday, December 15, 2006

 

My God,” the king of Norway cried “Someone’s stealing my secrets!"

Review of Billy Boyle
By James R. Benn

A Rookie Cop Goes to War

There is a classic formula for telling a detective story in one sentence which goes: “My God,” the king cried, “Someone’s stolen royal secrets, purloined the national treasury, diddled my secretary, and murdered the prime minister; who done it?” In his novel Billy Boyle, James R. Benn manages with skill to hit all the elements for a successful detective story: religion (at least on the level of personal morality) espionage, theft, murder, and mystery.

Billy Boyle, a rookie police detective is commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and assigned to the staff of his “Uncle Ike” at Eisenhower’s Supreme Allied Headquarters in England during the runup to an invasion of Norway. Eisenhower and the British Intelligence service assign Billy to track down a spy from among the Norwegian Patriots training for a "secret" invasion of Norway. For reasons that are not clear in the beginning, they are counting on Billy Boyle’s youth and ineptitude as a detective to botch the investigation.

Billy, with his own personal sense of inadequacy takes on the assignment and in the process, in company with the daughter of a British aristocrat and her lover, a Polish Baron with a heart condition, rushes around the England and Scotland following a conflicting set of clues trying not only to identify the spy, but also to solve an attempted murder, two actual murders, and the theft of part of the Norwegian national treasure. Their quest in England involves a great deal of danger and suspense while providing a scenic tour of the wartime countryside in the bargain. Boyle, having identified the person whom he suspects of all five crimes, makes a dangerous and perilous trip to Norway running from and into German patrols and suspicious and dangerous Norwegians. Once in Norway, he ties up all the loose ends of the mystery except one; the reason Eisenhower and British Intelligence assigned him the mission with expectation that he would fail. In the final twist of the plot, he discovers, as does Eisenhower and the British, that he has not, by solving the mystery, frustrated their plans when they sent him in pursuit of the spy, but has succeeded in a fashion that exceeded their initial plans in expecting him to fail.

Billy Boyle succeeds both as a story and, unexpectedly for a book in the detective genre, in providing characters with depth, especially with a protagonist whose personal and moral struggles not only provide a look at the difficulties a young man faces who must overcome his youthful sense of professional inadequacy but also his moral struggle in dealing with the dilemmas presented by what he discovers in the course of his investigation. Good Book. Order it here.


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