Billy Boyle (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series #1)

Billy Boyle (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series #1)

by James R. Benn


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What’s a twenty-two-year-old Irish American cop who’s never been out of Massachusetts before doing at Beardsley Hall, an English country house, having lunch with King Haakon of Norway? Billy Boyle himself wonders. Back home in Southie, he’d barely made detective when war was declared. Unwilling to fight—and perhaps die—for England, he was relieved when his mother wangled a job for him on the staff of a general married to her distant cousin. But the general turns out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose headquarters are in London, which is undergoing the Blitz. And Uncle Ike wants Billy to be his personal investigator. 
Billy is dispatched to the seat of the Norwegian government in exile. Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway, is being planned, but it is feared that there is a German spy amongst the Norwegians. 
Billy doubts his own abilities, with good reason. A theft and two murders test his investigative powers, but Billy proves to be a better detective than he or anyone else expected.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616953553
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/13/2013
Series: Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 162,121
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.38(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries. The debut, Billy Boyle, was named one of the top five mysteries of 2006 by Book Sense and was a Dilys Award nominee. Subsequent books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and been listed as the Bookpage Mystery of the Month. Two have been tagged as a "Killer Book" by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. A librarian for many years, Benn lives in Hadlyme, Connecticut, with his wife, Deborah Mandel.

Read an Excerpt


Over the North Atlantic
June 1942

I WANTED TO DIE. No, actually I didn’t want to die. Or live. I just didn’t care. Dying would have been better than puking my guts out again in a bucket. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if the bucket hadn’t been inside a freezing Flying Fortress halfway between Iceland and England, trying to ride out a North Atlantic storm. And if there hadn’t been a war going on, and I hadn’t been headed right for it.

I wanted to reach for the bucket again but the floor dropped out from under me as the Fortress was pounded by powerful, howling storm winds that seemed to scream at the fuselage, clawing at the plane’s skin for a way inside. Canvascovered crates bounced on each other, held down by knotted ropes and the weight of what they carried. I worried about being crushed to death before I ever got to England, a crate of beans or grenades or whatever was important enough to rate air transport ending my military career. The waist gunner openings were closed up. Only a small Perspex window let in what little light there was among the gray clouds at twenty thousand feet. The noise from the storm and the four straining engines pounded in my head like a jackhammer orchestra. I prayed for the plane to steady itself and held on to the hard metal seat for dear life. All I could think about was the fact that, just two days before, I was fat, dumb, and happy, just about to graduate from Officer Candidate School, and ready to enjoy the delights of life as a staff officer at the War Department in Washington, D.C. I was all set. The fix was in. Now I was in a fix.

I never wanted to be in the army. I was happy as a cop on the beat in Boston, just like my dad and my uncles, and seldom even left South Boston, where the Boyle family lived and worked. I had been on the job for three years, and my dad and his brothers and their pals watched out for me. That’s how it works. The rich folks on Beacon Hill look out for their own and the Irish in Southie look out for theirs. I guess it’s like that all over the world, but I really don’t know. Or care. That’s the world’s problem.

My problem was that I had just made detective three days before Pearl Harbor. It was unusual for a kid in his early twenties to make the grade. The test they gave was pretty hard. While I can usually figure things out sooner or later, I’m no scholar. I would’ve had a hard time, but a few of the sheets from the test sort of found their way into my locker a couple of days before the exam. I managed to pass. My uncle Dan is on the promotions board, so with a little backscratching with his buddies over a few pints of Guinness, I was in. That’s just the way it works. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a good cop either. It’s not a bad system, actually. The other guys know me and know they can depend on me. I’m not some stranger who got the job just because he’s smart enough to answer a bunch of questions on his own. That doesn’t mean squat when you need your partner to back you up. Three years walking the beat in Chinatown and around the harbor had taught me a lot, not to mention everything Dad tried to drum into my head. He’s a homicide detective, and he always made sure I got assigned to a crime scene when they needed some extra bluecoats for crowd control or knocking on doors. I worked a lot of overtime, saw a lot of dead bodies, and listened to Dad talk me through his routine. Sometimes it was obvious who the killer was, like after a knife fight between drunks. Other times, it wasn’t. Watching Dad figure things out was like watching an artist paint a picture. He used to say an investigation was a lot like art, just a blank canvas and a whole lot of different colors in little jars. All the clues were there, just like a painting was already in those little jars of paint. But you had to mix them together and put them on the canvas right, so it all made sense. Well, the only thing I can paint is a house, and sometimes I couldn’t see how Dad figured things out, even when he explained it all to me. But he would always go through it with me afterward, hoping some of it would stick.

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed to hear about Pearl Harbor. It was tough for those guys out there, but it also meant the draft board was going to come after me. The
Boston PD had more cops than deferments, and we younger guys knew what was coming. I didn’t like it much, but it looked like Uncle Sam was going to ship me off to fight the Japs. Everybody was all worked up over the Japs, but it seemed to me that I had enough problems with the Chinese gangs down in Chinatown without taking on the rest of the Orient.

I thought maybe the military police would be a good choice, to stay in the game sort of. Dad nixed that idea right away. He’d hated the MPs he’d run into in France during the First World War and said no son of his would ever earn his keep busting poor enlisted men over a drink or the ladies. OK, that was that.

Uncle Dan didn’t want me to go at all. He and Dad went off to war in 1917 with their older brother, Frank. Frank got killed his first day at the front. It broke Grandma’s heart and I think Dad and Uncle Dan’s, too. I never really knew how hard it had hit them until one night over drinks at Kirby’s Bar, right after New Year’s, just a month after Pearl Harbor. I could tell they were working up to tell me something. It took a couple of Bushmills Irish whiskeys before they got around to it.

“If somebody comes after the Boyles, then it’s personal, and we all back each other up,” my dad started. “You know that, Billy. But this war, it’s no good for us. The Boyles have finally made it here. No one ever helped us, especially when Da couldn’t get work because ‘No Irish Need Apply.’ We’ve worked hard to build something for you here, and we’re not going to let this war with the Japs and Germans take it away from you. It’s not our war. No one attacked Boston or Ireland. So we’re going to find a way to keep you safe. We don’t want you to get killed, like Frank.”

“Especially not fighting for the fucking English, Billy,you remember that,” Uncle Dan chimed in. Like any good IRA man, he hated the English. It had galled him to fight on the same side as the English in his war, and he didn’t want me to do the same in mine. Unfortunately, their plan didn’t go any farther than deciding I shouldn’t get killed, which sounded fine to me. We drank some more, and went home. Dad got yelled at. I went to sleep.

In the morning we went to Mass. That always calmed Mom down, and she was nice to Dad as we walked home from church. That’s when she got the idea. Her second cousin, one of the Doud clan that had moved to Colorado, was married to a general who worked at the War Plans Division of the War Department in Washington, D.C. Maybe he’d give me some sort of job there. I’d seen him last at a family wedding a few years ago. Since he was an older guy I called him “Uncle.” Uncle Ike.

The Boyle family put the wheels into motion. Dad called our congressman, Teddy McCarrick, who owed him for certain favors granted during the election. Teddy was glad to oblige, knowing there was always another election around the corner. Not only did I get an immediate qualification for Officer Candidate School, but he called a week later and told Dad that my uncle had asked Army Personnel to assign me to his staff as soon as I graduated OCS. Well, all right! On my uncle’s staff in the nation’s capital, where the women outnumbered the men ten to one and I’d be an officer and a gentleman. Not bad for an Irish kid from Boston. A lot better than a grave in France, according to Uncle Dan.

We only forgot one thing. The part of OCS that stood for “School.” I did fine in basic training. I’d always played sports and kept in shape. I knew firearms, which is more than I can say about the other guys in boot camp. I figured it was more dangerous around the firing range there than anyplace I’d ever see in this war. But then we went to school. Never liked it, never will. It wasn’t the kind of school where you could bullshit your way out of trouble, like I’d done many times back home. They really expected you to learn this stuff: map reading, tactics, command, logistics. It gave me a headache. I kept hoping that I’d find the exam answers slipped under my door, but this wasn’t Boston, and the noncoms were all Southern boys. Not an Irish guy among them.

Somehow, I made it. Rock bottom out of my company, but I made it. Before we got our bars my drill instructor told me I was the dumbest Irish Mick he had ever seen, and that was saying something. I thanked him for the compliment and thought, Imagine how surprised he’ll be tomorrow when we get our orders, and I go off to the War Plans Division. Ha! I’ll show him!

We got our orders all right, and Sarge really was surprised. So was I. I wasn’t going to D.C. I was going to London goddamn England, to the headquarters of the U.S. Army
European Theater of Operations, General Dwight David Eisenhower commanding. Uncle Ike. In charge of the whole shooting match. Why, I had not a clue. I love my mom, but I had to think that maybe this was not one of her best ideas. The plane stopped rocking and lurching. The storm had calmed down, and so did my stomach. The sun rose, or we caught up with it, and things started improving. We descended through white clouds, and when I went up to the cockpit I actually enjoyed the view. I was the only passenger, not because I was special, but because a Flying Fortress bomber was not meant to be a passenger plane. I had AAA travel priority, so I had been put on the first flight out of the States headed for England. This was it, or at least for a lowly lieutenant, this was it. I had never flown before—hell, I had never been out of Massachusetts before the Army—and the sight of England from the air was beautiful. So green and lush, small fields marked off by stone walls and clumps of houses at intersections, huddled together like storybook villages. I closed my eyes, mentally apologized to Uncle Dan, and then opened them to admire the greenness unfolding below me as we descended lower and lower.

We landed at a military airfield. I climbed down the metal steps to the runway, stiff from sitting so long on a hard seat. One of the crew threw down my duffel bag and waved so long. I caught it and waved back, wondering what the hell was going to happen now. I walked past the wing of the Fortress and stood on the wet tarmac. Rows of aircraft lined the field. At the end of the runway, off to the side, a twisted black hulk scarred the orderly landscape, its tail fin pointing up to the sky like a cross. A real confidence builder. A jeep pulled out from a nearby hangar and stopped next to me. It was misting slightly, and the officer driving it had his trenchcoat collar turned up and his service-cap visor pulled down. My own trench coat was rumpled from the long trip, and my tie was undone. Scarf. I had to remember they called ties “scarves” in the army, just to confuse honest civilians. I saw the officer, a major, look down at my shoes with a grimace of distaste. I looked down, too. They were flecked with dried vomit.

“You must be Lieutenant William Boyle. Get in.”

In my wisest decision since I arrived in England, I kept my mouth shut, and got in.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This book has got it all—an instant classic."—Lee Child

"Spirited wartime storytelling."—The New York Times Book Review

"A meaty, old-fashioned, and thoroughly enjoyable tale of WWII-era murder and espionage."—The Seattle Times

"One of the best books I've read this year."—Mystery Scene

"The sense of place is sensational, a wonderful backdrop to this complex and intriguing story."—Mystery News

"A fascinating mystery with the sensibility of a World War II movie."—Sacramento News & Review

“This book has got it all—an instant classic.”—Lee Child, author of The Hard Way

“It is a pleasure marching off to war with the spirited Billy Boyle. He is a charmer, richly imagined and vividly rendered, and he tells a finely suspenseful yarn.”—Dan Fesperman, author of The Prisoner of Guantanamo

Customer Reviews

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Billy Boyle 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1073 reviews.
cplhawkins More than 1 year ago
Well, not so much a review as just a posting letting people know that this is indeed a full book not just a few pages or a short novella length story like some of the books in the free ebooks section. I usually look at the free books and wonder quite often whether they are full on books or just those few pages designed to get you hooked into buying the full length version. I won't usually download the short versions of the free books for some reason though I definately appreciate the thought of putting them up as free to download and read. And this one comes in at a healthy 287 pages in length, and though I'm not too far into it it looks to be a great read. So, this is for people like me who like to know beforehand if a book is really a full length book and not just a small sample type thing. Thanks!
SKIZ More than 1 year ago
I picked this up for my Nook from B&N's 'Free Friday' offering. Its a detective story set in World War II England. Narrated in classic first person detective perspective with a sort of sarcastic/funny voice similar to Harry Dresden (another favorite series of mine.) I love historical fiction and am definitely going to read the rest of this series. Thanks Barnes & Noble!
meepsWT More than 1 year ago
I gave this only four stars due to the fact that aside from the main characters, you only get a passing glance at the others - and there are quite a few others. Early on, I found this to be somewhat confusing as I could not remember who was who and had to back-track a few times. I found this to be true within the story line as well - sometimes scenarios were described in great detail while others were fluffed over rather quickly. I found myself really liking Billy - he grew on me more and more as the story unfolded. The author did a fantastic job developing a raw, somewhat naive young man into a mature, insightful detective. Overall, it is a decently written book and I found it an enjoyable read - enough to purchase the second book in the series.
KatelynLucile More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up on a whim, but I quickly realized it was better than I had expected. It started off a little slow for me, but picked up fast. I am about to order the next books and the series and can't wait!
HappyHeartFL More than 1 year ago
I got this from the free Friday offerings from B&N. I try to look for full fledge books, and give them a try. This one was very good. It had good character development, good plot, and a good story line. It's a refreshing new twist, WWII, on a mystery series and I will definitely be buying more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never read this author before, but like stories in this time frame. I was pleasantly surprised. The plot developed well as the characters fleshed out. The action gradually grew and so did my interest. I found the conclusion satisfyingly with interesting twists. I look forward to reading more from this author and am glad that he has many more to offer .
Smuricat More than 1 year ago
One of the best WW2 books I have read in a long time. Right up there with “City Of Gold” by Len Deighton, “The Pearl Harbor Murders” by Max Allan Collins, and “Ice Reich” by William Dietrich. Boyle’s back story is what makes the character so real and enjoyable. This is NOT a book for someone that doesn’t like plot twists and details. Readers used to reading Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys may find this book too confusing for them. Looking at a map and looking up the historical details is part of reading a ‘Historical novel’. My only gripe about this book was that one of the main characters that I really liked died. BUT even this gripe fits perfectly in the book because;“Hell, That’s War Right?” I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
H_S_Maplesnoot More than 1 year ago
This book has a little something for everyone: action, adventure, mystery, double-dealing, and even romance. While trying to solve the mystery, Billy Boyle has a crisis of conscience that makes him seem more real. Overall, this was an enjoyable read.
blitz27 More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was a great read. Wasnt too sure at the beginning but it ended up being really great and unexpectant at the end. I am looking forward to reading the #2 book of the series.
Vintage_Hippie More than 1 year ago
This one started off good, dragged in the middle, then was predictable in the end. Saying that, it seems like I didn't like it....yet, I liked it for what I bought it for....reading before bed. I love historical stuff, but this one could have been set about anyplace by changing a couple of things....that sort of bugged me a little. I may try the second one later on to see if they improve, but for nook and no more than I paid, it was worth three stars. I just wish it had been a bit more "period" and less like a plain mystery.
Radon More than 1 year ago
Not a bad book but hardly a potential classic. Fairly original plot that will familiarize some with lesser-known aspects of WW II, such as the proposed Jupiter operation. (I didn't check but assume the author got his dates correct.) Gets off-subject with an excess of info about Boston Irish, the IRA and such, but otherwise moves along well. Repeats the semi-mythical "No Irish Need Apply" tale. The characters strike me as less than realistic, as does the depiction of an army where most everyone somehow gets on a first-name basis, almost regardless of rank. The depiction of Eisenhower and his relationship with the protagonist struck me as unrealistic. All-in-all, however, an entertaining if not demanding read.
Gittel More than 1 year ago
Billy Boyle was a character I enjoyed spending time with. He rang true to his era; Irish heritage, Boston Cop whose father and uncles were Boston Cops and the legacy that mandated all circa 1940. Historical events, real people, and a main character that came to the table with a background that is believable. All the markers for a good read. I must confess I read this book because it was a freebie from Barnes and Noble for my Nook. I will look for and read other books by James R. Benn. Even if I have to pay for them.
Clevegal42 More than 1 year ago
This isn't usually the type of book I read, but I picked it up after a posting on my nook about it and I'm so glad I did. I just finished reading this and I'm thinking about getting the next one in the series. I honestly had no idea where it was heading so each new revelation was a complete surprise for me. Parts were a bit depressing because of the background story of the war, but overall I enjoyed it. The characters are written very well and you can see all their positives and flaws without it being too overdramatic or "over the top". The pace was pretty good - a little slow in the middle but once I got to the end I was glad for all that information so I wasn't confused. I love mysteries and this one definitely makes me want to pick up the series. It isn't too heavy, but not so light that you finished reading and feel unsatisfied. Even though you don't know me from Adam, I recommend this book highly.
sergestorms 18 days ago
....suspenseful. At times edge of the seat. Under the impression this is a series so looking forward to picking up the next.
Sandy Peasley 3 months ago
Looking forward to the next one!
4everreading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this on my Nook as a free book from Barnes and Noble. It's something I probably would have passed on if I saw it in a bookstore and that would have been a shame. Billy Boyle is a Boston cop who is about to be drafted during WWII. His family pulls strings with relatives and he is assigned to his Uncle Ike in England. Billy methodically and cleverly gathers clues to discover who committed a murder. Although it is fiction, the book is based upon an actual event in Norway during WWII. The characters are well-developed and believable as is the resolution of the mystery. This was a very satisfying book and I'll look for the others in the series.
jeanned on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Detective Billy Boyle takes leave of the Boston Police Department to join the war effort, his family pulls strings to secure a desk job for him. He finds himself reporting for duty in London where he will work for his uncle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, as the general's personal investigator. In this first installment of the series, Billy is befriended by a Polish nobleman, dines with the Norwegian government-in-exile, and fals in love with a gorgeous spy while he brings his limited experience as detective to bear on a suspicious death. This engaging if clichéd mystery was short-listed for the 2006 Dilys Award. I rated it 7 out of 10 stars.
shwetzel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young Boston cop looks for an easy desk job with his distant cousin during WWII. His relative is named Ike. Soon young Billy is in war-torn London, where, dispite his misgivings about his military metal, he acquits himself very well.
Smiley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Subpar writing, even for a mystery. Filled with cliches. Just ok mystery. Don't botherr.
vernefan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, young city cop Billy Boyle gets drafted to the war front in London. Fortunately for Billy, his uncle General Ike Eisenhower steers him away from the battlefields and requests that his favorite nephew become his own personal investigative detective. Using his Bostonian police experience, Billy is to begin his military tour of duty solving war crimes. As an Irish New Englander born and bred, Billy is quite green around the gills when his shiny black polished combat boots arrive in foggy, wet London feeling naïve and foreign. As he settles in and is introduced to his superiors and peers, Uncle Ike tosses him his first mission. A man has been murdered. A Norwegian visitor who was involved in a plot of espionage and was part of a plan hatched by the American/British partnership to assist Norway in their fight against the Germans, has either committed suicide, or has been pushed out a four story window of the hotel they are all bunking in. Billy doesn't want to admit he's not really qualified for this kind of detective work and finds him self taking on the case to make his uncle proud. Using the skills his father taught him about the art of detection and catching criminals, Lieutenant Billy Boyle soon finds himself digging up clues, and becoming a regular "Sam Spade" of World War II. James Benn has created a sensational war hero that all readers will enjoy. The writing is superb, the characters are so real and wonderfully created, and the plot is a fun filled adventure mix of history, murder mystery, action, romance and delightful little dollops of dry humor to make you smile as you turn the pages. The book on the whole has a very nostalgic Noir feel to it. I truly felt I was there with Billy as the diving bomber pilots screamed from the sky, when bullets abound whizzed by his head, and as he nearly drowns in 40-waves when aboard a battleship being fired on from all sides. Steeped in the slang of the 1940s, memories of the music and fashion of the times, this first installment in the Billy Boyle series is really fun! 5 shining stars!
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Billy Boyle is a Boston policemen--from a family of Boston policemen. So he is the ultimate "fish out of water" when the World War brings him to London, England, to work with his "Uncle Ike". Boyle is assigned to look into any michief that occurs, and it doesn't take long he first investigates a spy infiltrating invasion plans. Then a Norwegian official is murdered and Boyle is called upon to investigate the case. This takes him chasing across England and Norway, and of course the truth is eventually brought out by his efforts.A solid mystery with a traditional feel and some nice historical touches.
pharrm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book, outstanding characters, intriguiging plot, couldn't wait for next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Plainly written, suspenseful, couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept me reading from start to finish
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A new Boston detective assigned to Eisenhower works cases to high level for regular investigators.