James R. Benn, The Devouring
Copyright © 2017 James R. Benn
Soho Press, Inc.
Also available as an ebook
The Devouring is the 12th entry in the excellent series of World War II mysteries/thrillers by James R. Benn, and it is a fine addition to the series. Following their previous assignment (in The Blue Madonna), Boyle and Kaz, his friend, and companion throughout these books (the Baron Pytor Kazimeirski, the sole surviving member of a wealthy Polish family), have to enter Switzerland (somewhat illegally) to assist Allen Dulles in an effort to prevent funds lodged in Swiss banks from being used to support Germany (and to prevent those funds from being used by high-ranking Nazis from escaping with their wealth after the war).
On their way out of France, they encounter Lasho, a Sinti (more or less a Gipsy clan), who has found killing as many Germans as possible to be his only reasons for continuing to live. They persuade him to escape with them to Switzerland, and he becomes integral to their mission.
As usual, Benn nails the details of the situation in Switzerland at that point in the war (mid-1944; his Afterword provides a good guide).) Among other things, his depiction of a Swiss detention facility is shocking, and accurate. And the general “neutral,” but effectively pro-German attitude of much of the Swiss government and population adds depth. Also as usual, he incorporated real people (used, of course, fictionally—Allen Dulles, and Moe Berg, to name two) into the narrative, and has other characters based on others involved during this time.
While there is a murder investigation into which Billy and Kaz are drawn, the book focuses on one particular effort to obtain a huge amount of money (Swiss francs) and gold. And there were huge deposits of both in Swiss banks, in numbered (and secret) accounts. [This aspect of the story reminded me that in Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin (1964), the action revolves around an effort to recover the funds, still held in a Swiss bank nearly 20 years after the war’s end, that belonged to a Jewish family.] Both in fiction and in fact, the issue of those deposits was a very contentious issue for decades.
Benn handles his material wonderfully well, and he has not only created memorable continuing characters, he also populates his stories with rogues and angels and rogue angels as well as anyone whose works I’m familiar with. Here, he keeps the tension high and the action brisk. And he raises the possibility, near the end, just the possibility, of an outcome that will change the life of one of his characters.