Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pg. 99: James R. Benn's "The First Wave"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: James R. Benn's The First Wave.

About the book, from the author's website:
The pursuit of truth in wartime is never as dangerous as when it forces a choice between the greater good and the life of a loved one. For Lt. Billy Boyle, that choice is as hard as the unforgiving rocky landscape of Algeria where the American Army receives its baptism of fire in the Second World War. A headquarters staff officer serving with General Eisenhower, Billy finds himself in the lead landing craft of the invasion of French Northwest Africa on a wet November morning in 1942. Having wished for a safe desk job, Billy finds that his police background and family connections have instead landed him in the role of Special Investigator charged with looking into low crimes in high places for his “Uncle Ike”. With one mission already under his belt, Billy finds himself in the vanguard of the first invasion of the war and rapidly entangled in French politics as Allied forces attempt to ready themselves for Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps. When corpses begin to appear before the Germans have even appeared, Billy is put on the case to find out if the cause is enemy action, or plain old-fashioned greed. Torn between solving this case and finding the missing Diana Seaton, a British spy held by renegade French fascists, Billy seeks a way to deal with both, hoping that “some Frenchie doesn’t put a bullet in my head before I give the Germans and Italians their chance at it.”

The First Wave is a novel about the ultimate choice that war can force on an individual, and how one man struggles to make that choice an honorable one. Billy Boyle tells his story in his unique voice, a reluctant hero slowly coming to grips the moral and physical minefields of the Second World War.
Among the early praise for The First Wave:
"'The First Wave' finds Boyle coming ashore in the 1942 Allied landing in French North Africa. He’s on a dangerous, if vague, mission to rally support from officers in the Vichy government forces in Algiers and to free a group of French resistance fighters, his English girlfriend among them. A better cop than secret agent, Boyle also gets wind of a smuggling ring that’s depriving soldiers of the new miracle drug, penicillin, and during the course of his investigation discovers that even in the middle of a war a combat hospital offers no refuge from noncombat crimes like drug trafficking, high-stakes gambling, rape and murder. In granting Boyle a measure of maturity, Benn takes care not to put a muzzle on him. The brash kid from Southie is still open, direct and fearless in his manner (and in his wonderfully loose-jointed use of the English language) and in no danger of losing his cover as a “happy-go-lucky Yank.” But even amid the excitement of the spirited wartime storytelling, Benn allows Boyle’s experiences to change him in ways both subtle and dramatic. Becoming sensitized to the status of female officers — paid half the salary of men, unable to issue an order to the lowliest private and denied the dignity of a salute — is one of those subtle ways. Seeing himself from the perspective of a people whose country his own has invaded is a more striking leap for Boyle, as is his new willingness to judge foreigners by their own standards. In one painful moment of introspection, he even questions his family’s rigid beliefs. Where he comes from, that’s real bravery."
--Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review

"Take a young Irish cop. Turn him into a lieutenant on Eisenhower's personal staff ... set him ashore on the coast of French North Africa along with the first wave of invading American troops. And watch the mayhem, mystery, and murder that are bound to follow...Benn follows up his first World War II mystery (Billy Boyle) with another danger-filled episode and delivers a cross-genre tale that is at once spy story, soldier story, and hard-Boyled detective. Bullets, babes, and bombs give Billy Boyle a bad time before he solves the case, but you'll have a good time reading about it. Highly recommended for all mystery collections."
--Library Journal (starred review)

"...combines conventional sleuthing and crackerjack adventure as the body count rises ... and the clock runs down ... Benn's wide-eyed hero retains his appealing earnestness and infectious spirit, and his escapade is refreshingly free of camp."

"Billy Boyle returns in a rousing adventure.... This series brings alive WWII for me...a very believable, entertaining, and educational read.... I enjoyed the cover art as much as the book, and look forward to the further adventures of Billy."
--Deadly Pleasures Magazine

"A solid follow up to Benn's first novel, The First Wave makes me look forward to his next."
--Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser, Sunny Randall, and Jesse Stone mystery novels.

"A triple dose of excitement with a murder mystery within a spy thriller within a World War Two adventure story. Benn skillfully transports us to North Africa at the time of the first Allied invasions with likable Boston Irish hero Billy Boyle. This is the kind of old fashioned story that one can describe as a 'rattling good read'."
--Rhys Bowen, Agatha and Anthony Award winning author of the Molly Murphy and Evan Evans mystery series.

"What a great read, full of action, humor and heart. James R. Benn is a remarkable writer and his hero, Billy Boyle, is equally remarkable and memorable. Lieutenant Boyle is a marvelous creation and we're keen to stick with him as he races to solve mysteries in the midst of war. Equal parts spy thriller, war story and murder mystery, with a dollop of romance that's never sweet, this is just a terrific book. More please!"
--Louise Penny, author of A Fatal Grace and winner of the Dilys, New Blood Dagger and Arthur Ellis awards.

"A captivating story that has all the essential elements: murder, espionage, and romance."
--Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mystery series
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

--Marshal Zeringue