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When Hell Struck Twelve

by James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2019, $27.95

Let me count the ways I love James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle novels: plot, character, details of World War II (fighting it, winning it, living under it), historical authenticity, and well-written action and suspense scenes that don’t let up. When Hell Struck Twelve is an especially fine example of Benn’s long-running series, which features General Eisenhower’s nephew, ex-New York City cop Billy Boyle.

During his first week in London in Billy Boyle (2006), Billy was thrust into solving a murder and it’s been nonstop for him ever since. Over his 14 books, Billy has worked his way up to captain, and as the book opens, he and his investigative partner, Kaz, are in the middle of a brutal battle on Hill 262 outside the village of Coudehard in Normandy as part of a very bloody fight between the Germans and Polish in the historic Battle of Falaise in 1944.

As the dust settles, Billy and Kaz head to General George Patton’s headquarters, where all factions of the French resistance fighters—who came in many varieties—prepare their plans to liberate Paris. Billy’s undercover division is out to catch a resistance mole and lay a trap with a fake map. The chase for the mole and figuring out his identity occupies Billy and Kaz for the rest of the book, as they make their way to occupied Paris.

What Benn is truly gifted at is depicting what it might have been like to live in an occupied city during WWII, the many shades of resistance, and what it took to survive day to day. He intersperses these depictions with inventive action scenes and suspense as Billy and Kaz close in on their quarry.

It’s no spoiler to say that the novel ends with the liberation of Paris, but the emotional journey that is evoked by the talented Benn along the way is strong, vivid, and completely authentic. If you want to get a feel for what it might have been like for a Parisian in 1944 to finally be liberated from an oppressive rule, pick up this novel. If you want a good chase story, pick up this novel. If you’re interested in clever and fun cameos by historical figures from Eisenhower and Patton to Hemingway and Andy Rooney, read this novel. In short, just read this novel! Or better yet, read the whole series. The Billy Boyle books are a gift.

Robin Agnew
Teri Duerr
September 2019
Soho Crime

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