"The First Wave"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross OCT 20, 2007)
I skipped the first installment of the WWII-era "Billy Boyle" series based on the advice of my wife, who found the first book to be somewhat "junior high-school." She felt the writing was pitched at 12-14 year-old boys, sort of in the vein of the classic English "Boy's Own" adventure. Nonetheless, I picked up this second in the series due to its Algerian setting and my general fondness for crime stories set amidst wartime. I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be a lot more grim and gritty than the romantic period-style cover implies.
This entry kicks off with Lt. Boyle aboard a landing craft headed for the Algerian coast, as a leading element in Operation Torch. After being counseled by his Irish relatives in the Boston police to stay well out of the action in the war, he finagled a spot on the staff of his "Uncle Ike" Eisenhower helping out with special duties -- which nonetheless manage to put him in harm's way. (It is worth noting that this second Billy Boyle adventure reveals a great deal of information about the events of the first book, and anyone who has an interest in the series is well-advised to start with the first one to avoid any spoilers.) Upon hitting the beach, Boyle and his superior are supposed to find some sympathetic French officers and get a Vichy garrison to surrender before any shooting starts.
This does not go well and the author does a very nice job outlining the various competing interests within the Vichy regime and how those complicated the Allied position. Soon Boyle's mission shifts to a more general attempt to determine enemy troop locations and strength. He then also gets caught up in the murder of an American supply sergeant, and a medical black market ring that somehow links U.S. personnel, Vichy forces, and even the SS. Here, Benn does a very nice job showing how the medical corps operations worked at the time, with a special focus on the shabby treatment of nurses. A further plotline involves Boyle's girlfriend, a British SOE agent now in the hands of the enemy. Thus he is faced with juggling his official assignment, his ad hoc investigation of the black market ring, and his personal mission to rescue his girl.
All these plotlines and layers of responsibility bump into each other a bit too often, and there's perhaps a little too much going on at times.
Nonetheless, it does make for a pretty compelling read and a very grim and nasty one at times, as the villains' crimes are revealed, marking Boyle in a very personal way. The supporting cast is mixed, from forgettable to some very entertaining nurses and a feisty Polish officer. All in all, good enough to make me think about going back to check out the first book and keep an eye out for the next.
- Amazon readers rating: from 74 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Desparate Ground (2004)
Billy Boyle Series:
- Billy Boyle (2006)
- The First Wave (2007)
- Blood Alone (2008)
- Evil for Evil (2009)
- Rag and Bone (2010)
- A Mortal Terror (2011)
- Death's Door (September 2012)
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- Official website for James R. Benn
- Wikipedia on James R. Benn's books
- Curled Up review of The First Wave
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About the Author:
James R. Benn is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received his MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University. He is a member of the American Library Association, Mystery Writers of America, and the Author's Guild. Benn has worked in the library field for over twenty-five years and currently works in educational technology.
He lives in Lyme, Connecticut, with his wife Deborah Mandel, a psychotherapist and their dog. Benn and his wife have two sons and seven grandchildren.