James R. Benn will appear at R.J. Julia on Tuesday, October 15th, at 7 p.m. to present A Blind Goddess. This event is free; books will be available for purchase and signing. Reservations are required and can be made online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. The bookstore is located at 768 Boston Post Road in Madison.
Published last month, A Blind Goddess marks the eighth World War II mystery to feature Billy Boyle. In addition to this series, Benn—a resident of Hadlyme—has written two stand-alone novels, On Desperate Ground and Souvenir (both available through E-Reads), set in the same era. More recently, the author collaborated with his wife, Deborah L. Mandel, LPC, and Connecticut State Trooper John G. Patterson on Patterson’s memoir, Traumatized. A graduate of the University of Connecticut who received an MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University, Benn worked in the library and information technology fields for more than thirty-five years before turning his attention to writing full-time.
The story opens in March of 1944, with US Army Lieutenant Billy Boyle returning to England after the completion of a dangerous mission in Italy (Death’s Door). Though due for a short leave, two urgent matters are thrust upon him (along with a promotion to Captain that General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself endorses). The first reunites Boyle with estranged boyhood friend Eugene “Tree” Jackson, now a Sergeant in the US Army’s first combatant African American battalion. One of Tree’s men, the aptly named Angry Smith, has been accused of murder and faces execution; the situation is sufficiently dire that both men are willing to put aside past indiscretions, however temporarily, if it means saving an innocent man’s life.
Boyle’s involvement in the aforementioned case is strictly on the down low, though British intelligence agent Major Cosgrove assigns him an equally sensitive task: inquiring into the homicide of a seemingly innocuous businessman who had been boarding with a German family in a nearby village town. (A string of missing girls further spurs his interest.) Complicating matters is the fact that Boyle is ordered not to investigate the Germans themselves, reasons unknown. The ensuing pursuit of truth is one that will reveal deadly knowledge—the kind that may just jeopardize the war effort.
Equally intelligent and intuitive, Boyle is a very likable protagonist amidst a myriad of unlikable things—not the least of which is the institutional racism that permeates society, (let alone the politics of war). Boyle’s reunion with Tree allows the author to explore this issue in a natural yet poignant manner, and the stylistic choice to revisit the men’s racially charged past throughout the narrative provides further enlightenment as well as an added layer of intrigue. That Boyle surrounds himself with a memorable stable of friends and associates—including his hard-charging romantic interest, Diana Seaton, and friend/comrade Lieutenant “Kaz” of the Polish Army in Exile—provides a nice counterbalance to the troubled world that these characters are living in.
The beauty of Benn’s work is that you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy it. Though he achieves an impressive authenticity of time and place, this is done without sacrificing a sense of underlying urgency, and it’s his engaging characters, complex whodunit(s), and subtle humor that will sustain the more traditional mystery reader. Those who are first initiated to Billy Boyle with A Blind Goddess will find it hard to resist the desire to revisit the author’s earlier offerings …
Additional author appearances:
Tuesday, October 29th—Enfield Public Library—7:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 30th—Monte Cristo Bookshop—7:00 p.m.