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The First Wave: A Billy Boyle Mystery

October 21, 2011

The First Wave: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery
James R. Benn
Library Book
291 pages

I’m not sure which makes me happier: that there’s a series of Billy Boyle mysteries, or that I like the second volume even better than the first. Billy’s working with the Allies in Algiers; missing his sweetheart, Diana; and trying to come home in one piece.

The events of the mission are only sketched in, when the story takes a more personal, and urgent turn. Diana’s been taken prisoner; a hospital has been raided; and there’s been a murder. Billy’s torn between the familiar territory of solving crime like a cop, and dropping everything to save the woman he loves.

I like what Benn’s done here. Billy’s character is more mature, more complex, after the events of the first story. He’s doing a little better at working with the army and knowing what’s going on. His love for Diana makes him brave, and sometimes, takes him to very dark places. Again, it’s a World War II setting that I didn’t know much about, the fight against the Vichy French in Algiers. I knew a little about the emergence of penicillin, but next to nothing about the war in North Africa. Having Billy asking questions and solving crime in the middle of historical events makes him a good guide. I’m learning along with Billy. Benn’s novels are well-researched. Fast action and good background detail do a good job of getting Billy, and the reader, right in the center of the action, learning about historical events as we go. Billy’s war is a personal war as well. I trust Benn’s characterization of how the violence and trauma of war affect Billy and Diana.

Can’t wait to read the next installment.

I’d also love to find more historical fiction, or even well-written narrative nonfiction that captures historical details so well, and so readably. So that I can learn while I’m following an interesting story. If it’s a mystery? Even better!

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