A Blind Goddess (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery # 8)

by James R. Benn

(Soho Crime, $26.95, 352 pages)

Who is this author?

Librarians love books, but they don’t necessarily write them. James R. Benn, of Hadlyme, does both. After 35 years of library and technology work, including being director of Godfrey Memorial Library in Middletown, and after the growing success of his Billy Boyle World War II Mystery series, he became a full-time writer in 2011. Benn says his wife, Deborah Mandel, who is a psychotherapist, helps him with his characters’ motivations. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild. “A Blind Goddess is the eighth novel in his Billy Boyle series.

What is this book about?

Benn sets his stories in the world of the Allied High Command during World War II, and his lead character Billy Boyle is a young Boston detective turned military private eye for his uncle — who just happens to be Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The first book, “Billy Boyle,” published in 2006, was set in England and Norway in 1942. The next, “The First Wave,” involves the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa and the third, “Blood Alone” takes place during the Allied invasion of Sicily. The fourth, “Evil For Evil,” sends Boyle to his native Ireland, and the fifth book, “Rag and  Bone,” is about the brutal Katyn Massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets. The sixth, “A Mortal Terror”, involves the Anzio Beachhead battle and the horrors of combat fatigue. The seventh, “Death’s Door,” focuses on  the death of an American monsignor in the Vatican in Rome.

The newest, “A Blind Goddess,” takes on the shameful racism that permeated the army in those days and has Boyle investigating the mistaken arrest of a black soldier and a second case, involving the murder of a British accountant. Could they be related?

Here’s what Benn told an interviewer for Kirkus Reviews about the main theme of “A Blind Goddess”:

“The Army was woefully unsupportive when it came to pursuing justice for blacks abused and killed by whites in the south. There was too much political pressure to keep the Southern Democrats happy to challenge the racist environment there,” he says. “Ultimately, there were great strides made. Black units fought well, and some whites willingly changed their attitudes after encountering black soldiers on something approaching equal terms.”

Why you’ll like it:

It’s history, it’s mystery, it’s well-written and it’s psychologically acute. Benn creates believable characters and tosses them into difficult situations, always an intriguing combination. You do not have to be a World War II buff to enjoy these books, but if reading one leads you to read all of them, you’ll become a bit of an expert without even realizing it.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says in a starred review:  “Pervasive racism in the U.S. Army during WWII frames Benn’s excellent eighth Billy Boyle whodunit … In March 1944, Billy receives an appeal from an old estranged friend, Sgt. Eugene “Tree” Jackson. A member of Tree’s “colored” battalion has been arrested for the murder of Thomas Eastman, an English policeman, who was found with his head bashed in on his father’s grave in the village of Chilton Foliat. Tree is positive that the accused was mistakenly arrested. Boyle wants to help, but he’s pulled away into another homicide investigation west of London in which MI5 has an interest. The intelligence service’s role may be related to the fact that the victim’s landlords were two Germans who fled their native country because they opposed the Nazis. The superior plot and thoughtful presentation of institutional racism directed against American soldiers about to risk their lives for their country make this one of Benn’s best.”

Says Library Journal:  “In the weeks building up to the anticipated invasion of France, D-day, things are hectic in southern England. Capt. Billy Boyle, a military detective, is surprised when an old Boston friend, Sgt. Eugene “Tree” Jackson, asks him to look into the case of a black U.S. serviceman who has been arrested in the murder of a constable. Tree’s unit, a segregated division stationed nearby, helps Boyle snoop around as he tries to figure out who has made the enlisted man a scapegoat. Concurrently, Boyle has been assigned to help MI-5 investigate the murder of a British loan officer. Adding fuel to the fire, a missing girl’s body turns up. Boyle steps carefully through the minefields of racism, espionage, and child abduction until the three cases intersect in a volatile, whirlwind finale. VERDICT Elaborately plotted, Benn’s eighth entry in the series …has his World War II sleuth investigating a deplorable side of U.S. military history. His use of an ongoing narrative throughout the book to explain Billy and Tree’s backstory is particularly well done.”

Booklist says: “The eighth adventure in Benn’s engaging WWII series finds recently promoted Captain Billy Boyle, special investigator for General Eisenhower, assigned to find the killer of a seemingly ordinary citizen in a country village. An odd assignment for a military man, made odder by the fact that Billy has been given orders not to investigate the German family who run the boarding house where the victim lived. Meanwhile, Billy has reconnected with an old friend from Boston, a black man called Tree, a sergeant in a tank destroyer unit. There is bad blood between Billy and Tree, but Tree puts that aside to ask for Billy’s help in freeing a friend from his unit, wrongly accused of killing an Englishman. Juggling both cases, Billy finds himself in the middle of a simmering racial conflict between the black soldiers stationed in the area and their white counterparts, who resent the fact that the blacks have been warmly received by the English. The mysteries themselves are pretty standard fare, but Benn’s thoroughly researched exploration of segregation in the wartime armed services is revealing and sensitively handled. Another nice mix of human drama and WWII history.”

When is it available?

You can find this one at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

James R. Benn, who lives in Hadlyme, has three loves: libraries, historical research and mysteries., he published his first “Billy Boyle” mystery in 2006, creating a brash young Boston detective turned military private eye for his uncle — who just happens to be Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — during World War II.

Benn once told me in an interview: “For each book, I focus on a true, but little-known event, and wrap a fictional mystery around it to illuminate history and the effect on those who lived through it.” If that’s a formula, it’s working well for him. You can learn more at


I live in Hadlyme, Connecticut, with my wife Deborah Mandel, a psychotherapist who offers many insights into the motivations of my characters, a good critical read, and much else. Our dog Ranger lives with us. We have two sons, Jeff and Ben, and seven grandchildren (Camille, Claudia, Emma, Luke, Nathaniel, Noah, Oliver).

I’m a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received my MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University. I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Author’s Guild. I’ve worked in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years and quit the day job routine in 2011 to write full-time.

I’ve learned two valuable lessons since I started writing which have helped me greatly. The first is a quote from Oscar Wilde, who said “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to a chair.” The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who told me “the story has to move down, as well as forward.” Both sound simple. Neither is.  Selected Works




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