Sunday, December 20, 2009

Billy Boyle's life during wartime

Billy Boyle, first of James R. Benn's four mysteries about a young Boston police officer who winds up in World War II England, has a long, leisurely buildup to what I suspect will be its central plot, and that suits the context just fine.

Billy's arrival in London is full of walks about town that take in tourist sights, wry observations, innocent wisecracks, loneliness, and the curiously unreal (to an American, at least) spectacle of a city trying to go about its business in a war zone:

"We turned a corner and had to stop as workers in blue coveralls hauled bricks away from a smoldering pile of debris that had slid out into the street. People going to work walked around the mess, carrying their newspapers, umbrellas, and briefcases as if it were completely normal to walk past bomb-damaged buildings. Shops across the street had OPEN FOR BUSINESS painted on wood plans nailed over shattered windows."
Young Billy, like virtually all Americans, has no experience of war on his own soil, in his cities, on his own streets. Benn's leisurely introductory chapters lay the groundwork for possible conflicts, but mainly they give the innocent protagonist a chance to take in the strangeness of his own situation, and they invite readers to do the same.

(James R. Benn was part of the "War Crimes" panel at Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis. Read more about Benn at his Web site.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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7 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Are these books the source for the PBS(BBC, probably) show "Boyle's War?"

December 21, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Never mind. That was "Foyle's War."

December 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, you figured that one out on your own. But these books have put me in mind of Foyle's War, about which I've heard good things and read something recently.

Boyle, Foyle, Coyle, Hoyle, Doyle ... It's quite a bit to keep track of in today's busy world.

December 21, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Greetings,

_Foyle's War_ was an excellent series set during WWII. Each of the episodes was tied, sometimes loosely, to a real event that occurred during the war--Dunkirk, Normandy, fears of invasion by Germany, buzz bombs, "invasion by Yanks," etc. I was hoping it would continue beyond the War, but it wasn't to be, unfortunately.

I've read the first two "Boyle" mysteries and will probably read the rest one of these days. The second is set during the early days of the invasion of the Allies in Africa--which led to the eventual expulsion of Germany.

December 22, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It appears that each of the Boyle novels is tied to a real event in the war as well: the invastion of Sicily in the third book and, in the fifth, the Katyn Forest massacre. Benn is a librarian, and he apparently has a taste for research.

December 22, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I hadn't realized that the "Boyle" series was tied to real events also.

Looking back now, that seemed more evident in the second novel as part of the novel concerned itself with the uncertainty of the French reaction to the invasion, which, if I remember correctly from what I've read, is historically accurate.

December 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should make it a point to vet historical crime fiction for accuracy. In the case of the first book, rivalry for position in Norway's government in exile is a plausible motive for murder, and the suspected presence of a German spy seems a plausible plot device.

December 23, 2009  

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