The Rest Is Silence: (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #9)

by James R. Benn

(Soho Crime, $26.95, 325 pages)

Who is this author?

James R. Benn, of Hadlyme, has made a second and highly successful career of writing mysteries, after 35 years of library and technology work, including being director of Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown.  Benn published his first “Billy Boyle” mystery in 2006, about a young Boston detective turned military investigator for his uncle — who just happens to be Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — during World War II. This book is the ninth in the Biily Boyle series and it is winning praise for Benn who is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild.

What is this book about?              

Benn told “The Rest is Silence” . . . features the disaster surrounding Operation Tiger, a D-Day training event at Slapton Sands in southwest England that went terribly wrong. I am currently at work on the tenth Billy Boyle novel, which will take him to distant waters in the South Pacific.”

“Silence” begins when an unidentified corpse is found  with a bullet in his head on a beach at on England’s southern coast, which happens to be the training site for the upcoming and highly secret D-Day invasion of Normandy.  US Army Captain Billy Boyle and his partner, Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, must investigate the grisly and mysterious death. Boyle and Kaz are lucky to be billeted nearby at Ashcroft manor, a Downton Abbey-ish home owned by a friend of Kaz, and Boyle gets to know some fascinating characters there, both upstairs and down. Then hundreds of Allied soldiers perish during Operation Tiger, and to complicate things further, a man at Ashcroft may have been murdered. It will take all of Boyle’s considerable investigative skills to solve the various mysteries in “Silence.”

Why you’ll like it:                  

Benn’s writing grows more assured with each successive Billy Boyle mystery. He gives his stories a solid historical underpinning, which make the fiction even stronger and offers the reader a course in World War II history without ever making it didactic. Benn combines the skills of an avid researcher with a born talent for storytelling: the reader reaps the rewards.

What others are saying:                                

Publishers Weekly says: “Benn offers a thrilling mix of fact and fiction in his ninth whodunit featuring Boston cop-turned-army investigator Billy Boyle. On the eve of D-Day, Boyle, who serves on Eisenhower’s staff, travels to Kingsbridge, England, and looks into the death of an unknown man whose corpse washed ashore on a beach. Since the location was used as practice for the amphibious assault that will be launched shortly in France, the higher-ups are concerned that a link may exist between the dead man, who was shot in the head, and the secret invasion plans. A feud among local gangsters that Boyle learns about suggests a less sinister theory, but the path to the truth is appropriately complex. The affable and capable Boyle continues to grow as a character, and Benn effectively uses the impending Allied invasion of Europe as the background for the whodunit plot.

“This Billy Boyle World War II mystery is an exceptionally written book . . . the plot and historical sights and sounds are top-notch. Whether a reader holds WWII books or suspense books close to their heart, this one will be a true find,” says Suspense Magazine.

Says Kirkus Reviews: “An unidentified corpse on the southwest coast of England throws a wrench into D-Day planning. Can Capt. Billy Boyle identify the victim and crack the case? April 23, 1944. Allied forces are gathered in Kingsbridge, waiting for the go-ahead to swarm the beaches of Normandy, but a body on the beach threatens to disrupt their sensitive timetable. Boston cop-turned-Army investigator Boyle  is called in to investigate, along with his melancholy partner, Piotr Augustus Kazimierz. The local coroner, Dr. Verniquet, confirms that the body has been in the water for more than a month and offers the opinion that the victim was a petty criminal of some sort. Billy wonders whether the dead man had darker designs, perhaps on Gen. Eisenhower, who’s supervising the big maneuver and makes a cameo appearance. Billy’s suspicions deepen when a sniper fires at him and Kaz, who end up pinned by their overturned jeep. Their probe gains traction when Billy decides to follow the money by determining who stood to profit most from foiling the D-Day invasion. The investigation leads the pair to some slick and colorful gangsters at a racetrack as well as the dining room of British society’s upper crust, where additional murders complicate the case. Billy’s ninth case moves a bit too deliberately and may have too many red herrings, but his whiz-bang first-person narrative keeps the story afloat, and its Greatest Generation plot gives it an appealing sense of nostalgia.”

Says Library Journal: “Southwest England in 1944. Operation Tiger is underway, a dress rehearsal for D-Day. Nerves are understandably raw. When a corpse washes ashore, questions naturally arise: Is this simply a drowned local or a drunken sailor or could it be a German spy? In this ninth entry in Benn’s series, plucky Billy Boyle, late of the Boston constabulary but now a member of General Eisenhower’s (Uncle Ike’s) Office of Special Investigations, is dispatched to investigate. The case of the dead body quickly gives way to a domestic drama played out at Ashcroft House where Billy is billeted. In residence are Sir Rupert, a former Indian civil servant, his two grown daughters and their husbands, plus a cadre of servants. Presiding over the menagerie is great-aunt Sylvia, she of the acerbic comment. When a possible heir (not only is he from below stairs but is also American-raised) arrives unexpectedly on the scene, it’s not difficult to predict trouble on the stormy horizon. There are period details aplenty with cameo appearances by historical figures. A bit of cheeky fun is had when the author enlists the aid of a certain Mrs. Mallowan (aka, Agatha Christie), a local resident, during the course of the investigation. VERDICT With its very smooth mix of mystery and historical references (with a dash of Downton Abbey), just about everybody will find something of interest in this fizzy retro cocktail.”

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has this book now.

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