A Reader Review:
A soldier-detective learns the lessons of war:
Straight out of Officer Candidate School, Lt. Billy Boyle finds himself not in a sheltered stateside billet but in a freezing B-17 on his way to war-torn London, assigned to Hq, European Theater of Operations. How did he get here? As he's arrived at so many other destinations in his young life: through family connections, this one on his mother's side--the Douds. When he arrives, his "Uncle Ike," General Dwight D. Eisenhower, briefs him on his first assignment, to use his skills as a detective in finding a spy who has infiltrated "Operation Juno," an Allied operation centered on Norway.
There are things that Billy doesn't know about "Operation Juno," and things that Ike doesn't know about Billy, particularly that Billy passed the detective's exam only with some family help. And Billy himself doesn't know how he's going to pull this off, but he knows his duty when he sees it. And he's been a Boston cop for five years, and has learned a lot about detection from his father, himself a veteran South Boston cop.
So Billy begins his investigation, and then there's a murder, and then another death, a heartbreaking one. Billy moves about, from London to the English countryside, and to other military bases, learning all the time--from his associates, from the people he meets along the way, and from his own memories of his father's life and what his father has taught him. Things like "chasing a lie" to find the truth, and looking for remorse when it should be found, but isn't always.
The writing here is absolutely excellent, skillfully interweaving Billy's search for a murderer and for justice with the lessons that he's been learning all his life, now concentrated in a war-time environment. The characters are beautifully realized, and all have something to teach Billy. Eisenhower appears only a few times, but each time he introduces a theme of the novel: family, the inevitability of loss, and the terrible costs of war. And the author shines in his characterization of Billy, who at the start of his tale is simultaneously cocky yet unsure of himself in this brand new milieu; as his investigation continues, he learns the lessons of war, and of family, of true bravery, and of manhood.
The various settings are perfectly detailed, whether in bombed-out London, at an English country house, or in a newly-built mess hall in England, so new that the sawdust from its construction still lies in straight lines on the ground nearby. Likewise, dialogue is true to the period, yet never trite.
This is a fine book, with an engaging hero. It is suspenseful, often charming, and always thoughtful, right up to its exciting denouement. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.