Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jamer R. Benn, A Mortal Terror

James R. Benn, A Mortal Terror
Soho Crime © 2011
ASIN: B004NNUYIS (ebook)
ISBN-13: 978-1616951627 (paperback)

Billy Boyle has some leave between assignments, and is in Switzerland to meet (briefly) Diane Seaton.  Diane has been in Rome on an assignment for MI5, and she has to meet with someone in the MI5 hierarchy (who turns out to be Kim Philby) to provide him with some very important information.  Boyle, to whom Philby owes a favor, hitches a ride.  What Seaton has to disclose (it’s January 1944, with a major campaign underway in Italy and, of course, the invasion of France looming) comes as a severe shock both to Philby and to Boyle.  It’s something that various people in various ways have tried to communicate, but none of them have been believed.

This is, however, a diversion from the events of the book, although it does provide some context for things that happen, or are disclosed later on.

Boyle has to leave Switzerland for Italy to investigate two deaths in Naples.  The means of murder differ, but both have been found with playing cards on their corpses—a Ten of Hearts on the body of a Lieutenant Landry and a Jack of Hearts on the body of Captain Galante.  Landry was in a combat unit; Galante, a doctor who thinks he has a way to deal with the overwhelming stress of combat.  But the question is—just these two?  Or are we working our way up the ranks?  Will it be a major, then a colonel, then a general next?  Or are the cards just a diversion (as in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murder, the victims’ names were a diversion) from the intended victim?

In short order, Boyle is in Naples, and then moves to Caserta, where plans are being laid for the landing at Anzio and the eventual assault on Monte Cassino (, if you want details).  Boyle’s investigation of the two (soon three—a Sargent) leads him into the combat zone.  In the course of this, he also finds out that his younger brother, Danny, who has been in a special training program (yes, it’s real: the Army Specialized Training Program, to train men to step in as 2nd Lieutenants quickly when the need arose (, has been shipped out—to Italy.  Given the casualty rates among Lieutenants in combat, this is somewhat anxiety producing.

And then the investigation leads him into combat, shortly after the landing at Anzio.

In the midst of the investigation, Boyle has something of an epiphany (about half-way through the book):

That's how evil made it's way in this world. Not with a devil's face, as the nuns taught us. It slithered between the cracks, caught decent people off guard, dragged them along until they were in too far. Then it made them into something they never thought they could ever be

Murder investigations are difficult enough when the murders are not straight-forward, but conducting an investigation in the middle of a major battle is a good definition of nearly impossible.  Nonetheless, he makes progress (although there are some false starts).  And, eventually, we reach the end.

This is another terrific book, but the conclusion left me disturbed (I can’t say why, because it would spoil the wrap-up), as Boyle acts in what was, to me, an unexpected way.  My other somewhat idiosyncratic issue is that I am not a big fan of deranged serial killer books, and one of the questions that must be resolved is whether this killer is, in fact, a deranged serial killer.  With those things on my mind, I still unreservedly recommend this book (and the entire series so far—this is book 6 of, at this point, 11). 

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