New Billy Boyle WWII mystery novel has shocking historical basis

James R. Benn, author of SOLEMN GRAVES- A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery.
(Photo by Francios Brunelle)

James Benn, acclaimed author of the gripping Billy Boyle WWII mystery novels, has once again created a can’t-put-it-down book, Solemn Graves, available from SOHO Press in hardcover and eBook beginning on September 4th.

This time, hero Boyle, a former Boston detective and his team, including Chicago cop Big Mike, partner up in their quest for justice. They discover a factual top-secret American unit, which, if word of its existence had leaked in June 1944, could have sunk the Normandy invasion.

Boyle and his group have been sent to Normandy to solve the murder of an American officer in a heavily guarded HQ close to the front. Unfortunately, while rummaging around the front lines, they don’t know about the highly secret, thousand-man camouflaged unit, the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. Its discovery would have put them in grave danger.

The victim of the murder they are assigned to solve, Army officer Major Jerome, was found dead in the sitting room of a farmhouse owned by Madame Janvier. The madame, despite it being wartime and her home and cider mill occupied at various times by both Allied and Nazi soldiers, carries on trimming her apple trees, and stoically goes on with her day-to-day life. She begrudgingly offers her hospitality to the armies of both sides in exchange for survival.

Billy and Mike are joined during the investigation by characters familiar to Benn’s regular readers -Polish Lieutenant ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz and Billy’s elusive love Diana Seaton, a behind-the-lines operative with the French Underground. Together they are tasked with solving the murder and bringing the killer to justice.

Benn’s words are so descriptive that the reader can experience a trick of the imagination and almost smell the coffee brewing on Madame Janvier’s kitchen stove.

Solemn Graves is James Benn’s most cinematic book to date. It vividly describes the chaos of war, along with the bloody and brutal carnage caused by the fighting units. The story is set the crucial days following D-Day with the barrages of shelling and Nazi tanks slowing down the allied advance. One can “see” the destroyed villages and feel the emotions of the French residents suffering and having their lives disrupted by a trio of armed combatants: the Nazis, the Resistance and even the Allies trying to advance to Paris. Despite the horrors, Benn still gives Billy Boyle and his companions sarcastic black humor, quick-witted dialogue and empathetic humanity.

The book is crammed with a plethora of red herrings, prime suspects, and seat-of-your-pants action.  Much care has been taken to lead the story down one road, only to find it blocked by a destroyed stone wall or bombed out church- thereby creating a U-turn onto another questionable path.

This perfectly crafted tale incorporates historically true events - including one secret tactic that was kept classified for more than forty years – and recognizable names of real people involved in the European theater and actual French villages - interwoven with the fictional characters that are mainstays in James Benn’s action-crammed mystery novels.

A great read for fans of WWII books, mystery buffs, active and retired military men and women, veterans, action/adventure readers and aficionados of detective stories.

This is one of those terrific sagas that will keep you up all night, turning page after page of non-stop adventure. And for those readers on your holiday list, this is a winner. Highly recommended. 

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle