Book review: A WWII mystery with Norwegian intrigue
Thor A. Larsen
You may be wondering what a review of Billy Boyle, A World War II Mystery, starring an Irish detective from Boston, is doing in a Norwegian-American newspaper. Never fear!
The two mysteries under investigation in this book both involve the Norwegian Forces in England in 1942. Author James Benn is a student of WWII and he uses Boyle, a nephew of General Eisenhower, to solve crimes within the armed forces. In this particular book, Billy is assigned by Uncle Ike to uncover a German spy within the Norwegian forces.
In the process of becoming very familiar with the key leaders of the Norwegian forces, Boyle interacts with King Haakon on several occasions. Having access, he learns the various officer sentiments about invading Norway, especially the planned Operation Jupiter (not to be confused with the actual Operation Jupiter, which was part of the Battle of Normandy). This invasion would cause significant loss of life and destruction of Norwegian businesses. Another view was to use the home forces in Norway to rise against their captors. The latter would be worse for Norway, as Germans had already shown their willingness to kill innocent civilians when attacked by home forces. All of this makes interesting background for the novel.
As with murder mysteries in general, the detective examines every aspect of the crime and thereby gets a ring-side view on a broad spectrum of people who may potentially be involved. Similarly, Benn has Boyle interact with American forces and British forces in seeking to solve the identity of the spy. The reader is provided with a glimpse of the British defeat at Dunkirk, as well as the amazing success of the King and the Norwegian civilians and troops who managed to bring out Norwegian gold under the noses of the German army. In his search for the spy, Boyle becomes very suspicious about the apparent suicide of an important Norwegian officer. In fact, he comes to believe there is a killer and a spy within the Norwegian forces.
Racing to solving the crimes, Boyle winds up going on one of the smaller “gun boats” that ferried Norwegian saboteurs back and forth from Norway to the small islands off the coast that provided a modestly safe haven. The dramas on these boats as they dodged the German ships and cold weather effectively are crisply described.
Finally, the book clears up a long-time mystery for me, why the Allies never invaded Norway using Operation Jupiter.
This is a very readable book from an author who is very knowledgeable on WWII. The second title in the series, The First Wave, really won’t have anything to do with Norway, as Boyle finds himself accompanying the forces invading French Northwest Africa. But by then you just may, like Boyle, be along for the ride.
Born in Stavanger, Thor A. Larsen immigrated to New York City with his parents in 1948. Now retired from a 40-year career as physicist and engineer, Thor draws and paints, and writes travel and arts articles for a local publication. He’s been married to Arlene for 49 years, and they have two adult children and three grandsons.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.