Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Review of Billy Boyle by James Benn (Soho Press, 2006)
Billy Boyle is the first book in a series of Second World War mysteries featuring the Irish-American cop turned war detective. The premise behind the series is a good one – knowing that he’s likely to be called up to serve, a family uses it network to find a cop an easy, safe ride through the war, not anticipating that their plan is going to back fire when Uncle Ike is transferred from Washington to London. Billy’s role is to act as the personal detective for General Eisenhower, solving crimes that might harm the war effort. Benn’s strategy is to tell the tale as a kind of boy’s adventure for adults, with lots of dare-doing and mystery. It works quite well, especially since Billy is reasonably self-depreciating, knowing his limitations. The plot is a little fanciful, as one might expect, and sometimes it’s a little stilted. And certain bits do not make a lot of sense, for example, a Norwegian living with other Norwegians leaving a suicide note in English. Moreover, the first person perspective can get a little tiring at times, with an over-use of I, we, us, etc. But otherwise it’s quite good fun, mixing adventure with pathos. I’ll no doubt try another in the series at some point.