In her Maggie Hope series, Susan MacNeal has seemed to be more and more interested in the US side of the outbreak of WWII (see The Hollywood Spy, 2021). In this novel, a standalone, she pursues that interest, creating a terrifying account of Nazism in America in 1940. Her central characters, mother and daughter Vi and Veronica, kick off the action with Veronica’s graduation from Hunter College in New York. Veronica is looking forward to an internship at Mademoiselle magazine, but thanks to an unfortunate turn of events the internship is rescinded. She and her mother, along with her Pasadena based Uncle Walter (in town for her graduation from Hunter) make plans to move to California. Uncle Walter is willing to let the women live in his beach house.
For new readers, the Billy Boyle books are set during WWII and feature an army captain, Billy, who investigates the murders that occur on the edges (or directly inside of) the war. It’s now 1944, and after giving Billy a bit of a break in the last book, The Red Horse, author James Benn plunges Billy and his sidekick Big Mike directly into the action. Road of Bones begins and ends with two bravura action scenes, a type of writing at which Benn excels. Action scenes can easily become dull or repetitive (to this crime reading veteran, anyway), but Benn is specific, descriptive in a concise way, and the pacing of his action scenes is perfection. The more I read, the more I think pacing is all, and Benn has the gift.
This novel will be published December 29.
This novel is more of a village cozy than a war novel, though it’s set at the start of WWII in the tiny British village of Pipley. The heroine, Olive, longs to enlist as a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), but she’s tethered to home, helping her father with her stepmother, who has MS, as well as with a young war refugee, Jonathon. She also has the responsibility of the family pigeon loft, a fine one, and one her bristly father hopes will meet with the approval of the NPS, or National Pigeon Service.
James R. Benn continues to explore all the nooks and crannies of the mystery genre, keeping things fresh even in book 15 of this long lived and now beloved series. Main series character Billy Boyle started as a beat cop in Boston, learning the “job” from his father and uncles, who get him a (supposedly) soft wartime post with “Uncle Ike”. As any reader of this series knows, Billy becomes an investigator, finding the smaller crimes within the larger confines of WWII. Sometimes the war is front and center but Benn is always a meticulously detailed pure mystery writer, making his books a real pleasure to read.
This book will be available on April 7, 2020.
This ticking clock thriller feels like the book Cara Black has long wanted to write, it’s so explosive, so taut, and so impossible to stop reading. The propulsive narrative follows Kate Rees, a young American sent to assassinate Hitler when he visits Paris for three hours in 1940. The set up introduces Kate as she’s waiting with her sniper rifle for Hitler’s appearance; then it goes back in time, very briefly, to establish Kate as a person. She’d been living in Scotland with her Welsh husband and their baby daughter when she loses them both to a German bomb, making her determined to fight the Germans with every bit of herself.
This title will be available February 25, 2020.
As I was writing my review, instead of adding “Susan Elia MacNeal” as the author, I almost typed “Maggie Hope,” so indelible and real has this character become. Maggie, the red haired spitfire who began the first book as Churchill’s secretary, has now left the SOE (Secret Executive Organization) after being sequestered on a Scottish island (see The Prisoner in the Castle). It’s now 1943 and she’s defusing bombs for the war effort.
James R. Benn, the creator of the Billy Boyle series, agreed to answer a few questions about his wonderful WWII set novels. His newest book, When Hell Struck Twelve, will be published in September.
Robin: How did you come up with the initial idea to have Billy be Eisenhower’s nephew?
Jim: I wanted to create a mechanism that would allow Billy Boyle to follow the course of the war in Europe (and beyond) and to be close to major events. Having him work out of Eisenhower’s headquarters gives him carte blanche to go anywhere I need him to go. The notion of his being Ike’s nephew provides the opportunity to humanize Eisenhower through their occasional interactions; it was also the mechanism to explain Billy’s ascendancy to the lofty realms of high command, since Uncle Ike wanted a trusted family member to run his investigations into low crimes in high places. The relationship also explains how a lowly lieutenant, later captain, can act with relative impunity within the chain of command.
This is the seventh Louise Pearlie mystery – the first one for me, and I have to say I am now a fan. I was able to pick up the character threads easily and was quickly absorbed in the story of Louise Pearlie, OSS agent, crossing a wartime ocean in winter to take up an assignment in London. Shaber is a brisk storyteller and I was immediately drawn in to Louise’s goodbye to her U.S, wartime office, to her boarding house friends, and even her packing for a winter voyage. By the end of chapter two she has her orders and is already on board ship.