Friday, February 8, 2019

James R. Benn, Death’s Door

James R. Benn, Death’s Door
Soho Crime, 2011
© James R, Benn 2011
eISBN 98-1-61695-186-3

When I began looking for something to read, I thought it was time to get back to James Benn’s Billy Boyle series; I was surprised to discover that it’s been 3 years since I read A Mortal Terror.  That was way too long a gap.  So I picked up my e-reader, opened up the file, and read Death’s Door in two days.  It is yet another excellent entry (the 7th), in my opinion, one of the best books, because of the personal stakes for Boyle, in a series of 13 books.

Billy Boyle, who is a distant cousin of Eisenhower and was, before the war, a Boston cop, now serves as a sort of free-lance investigator for Ike in the ETO during World War II.  In this entry, he’s more-or-less AWOL when he is dragged back to undertake a job that will take him to the Vatican, with Rome still under German occupation, to investigate the murder of Edward Corrigan (who had worked in the Holy Office of the Pope, as a lawyer-within-the-church.  It seems that there are major religious and political figures in the US who want to know who did it, and why.

Boyle is immediately willing to go—not because he really cares about Corrigan’s death, but because the woman he loves (Diana Seaton, a British intelligence officer) will be in or around Rome, in a Gestapo prison—if she’s still alive.  And he intends, one way of another, to find her and get her out.  Going with him on this quest is his close friend, with whom he has worked throughout the war, a Polish Baron, Pitotr Augustus Kazimerz (Kaz).  Along the way a large number of “real people” have minor (Sterling Hayden) or major [any number of priests he works with (or against)] after he gets to the Vatican.

The historical setting is (as is usual in Benn’s books) remarkably well presented.  In this case, it involves the position of refugees (especially Jewish) hiding out from the Nazis, the privations (and some minor privileges for those fortunate enough) experienced by the population.  There’s even a moderately un-nasty German intelligence operative.  As Benn spells out in an afterword, many of the events in the book are historical fact (for one, which sheds no particular honor on the Allies, the bombing of Monte Casino).

The various threads of the story wind up coming together, and Boyle (and Kaz) complete their mission.  But it is, throughout, not a sure thing, with an occupying army, the Gestapo, other elements of German intelligence, and the machinations within the Vatican.  And a considerable number of the actors in this tale don’t come through it unscathed—or even alive.

If you have not yet encountered these books, I would suggest starting at the beginning (with Billy Boyle), and I would strongly suggest starting now.

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