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by James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2013
352 pages
ISBN: 1616951923

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The setting of James R. Bennís A BLIND GODDESS is wartime England, March 1944. American troops are stationed in small towns in the British countryside, and their presence is part of the landscape. They await the coming invasion by training, doing maneuvers, and hanging out in the local pubs. However, a disturbing side of this period is also presented. Segregated Negro troops are stationed in England, including the first all African-American combat battalion, and the racism they face from other American soldiers as well as from the whole military establishment is depicted in great detail throughout the book. Certain villages are designated as places where these troops may recreate, and there is very little socialization between black and white soldiers. When they do happen to meet, violence often occurs.

Captain Billy Boyle, assigned to General Eisenhower's staff, is a former Boston cop. As the book opens, he is asked by his childhood friend Tree, now a soldier in the Negro unit, to help free Tree's friend. His friend, with the unfortunate nickname of Angry, has been charged with killing a policeman and leaving the body on the grave of the dead man's father. It is clear to Tree, and soon to Boyle as well, that Angry has been charged because he is black and it was easy to put the blame on him.

Before he can do much for Angry, Boyle receives orders from the General, whom he calls his uncle, to investigate the murder of a local mortgage lender. Boyle soon realizes that there must be more to this death than a simple village crime, since high echelons of the service are concerned about it. Also, he is given strict instructions not to bother the refugee German couple in whose house the murdered man had lodged. Although he knows that all is not what it seems, that things are being kept secret, Boyle tries to investigate this crime as well as finding the real murderer of the policeman. The local police are involved, but they are also looking into the case of a missing schoolgirl and the possibility of a serial killer on the loose. Boyle and his team, which includes Big Mike and a Polish nobleman, unearth many clues, including some that the government does not want them to know.

Boyle's girlfriend, Diana Seaton, works for the secret service. She is also a member of British royalty and is trying to use her connections to encourage the British to act against the Nazi concentration camps. The anti-Semitism of the government is shown clearly in their efforts to silence her. A number of previous adventures and narrow misses are referred to, and these may be happenings from some of the previous Boyle WWII books.

The author is able to recreate, in his book, a sense of the times with which he is concerned. The speech of the soldiers, the racism, the general feeling of how things are presented, all remind this reviewer of watching one of those wonderful black and white 1940's war films. There is violence, but it is presented in a way that does not blow it up into more than it is. Sex happens "off camera," when the lights go off. With its attention to period detail and sensibility, A BLIND GODDESS feels like a book of another, perhaps less chaotic era. It is Benn's eighth book in the Billy Boyle WWII mystery series and will make the reader new to the series eager to find and read them all.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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