James R. Benn, Blue Madonna
© 2016 by James R. Benn
The invasion of France is imminent, but Billy Boyle’s assignment has nothing to do, directly, with it. He’s been charged with infiltrating a gang of blackmarketeers, for the purpose undermining them, so that truly vital supplies (like penicillin) are not diverted. To do this , he has to help a member of another black market gang free one of his guys who’s being held captive. Then, he has to get himself, and Baron Pytor Kazimers (a Polish ex-pat working with British intelligence)—and a trained radio operator to a Resistance group in occupied France, where a group of American soldiers are being hidden after their plane was shot down.
Once they get to France, things get complicated. Billy, Kaz, and the radio operator are hidden in a crumbling home of a minor French nobleman, along with the crew. There are two murders, the Germans are getting too close to comfort (although the Abwehr officer in the area is not particularly inclined to apply too much pressure on the Count—who has something (or things; the Blue Madonna figures into this) he wants, and, unsurprisingly, he has something the Count wants. Billy has to try to discover who the murderer is—or who the murderers are—without compromising the rest of the mission. And, in fact, the investigation recedes in importance as the need to complete the other part of their mission looms larger.
And there’s someone involved who is personally very important to Billy.
In the end, Blue Madonna is more of an action/adventure story than a mystery. As usual, Benn serves up a strongly-plotted tale filled with people we care about. And he makes the war a palpable, personal thing for the people involved. And I learned more about the war (as I usually do from his books), because it’s told as a personal story, because it’s not the war from 30,000 feet up. We see real people struggling to get things right, to have to make life-and-death decisions, decisions they almost have to know they won’t always get right. And Benn makes even a small part of a great war of great significance to us.