Books

Review | 'Solemn Graves'

New James Benn book is a standout in WWII series

As the years go by and more World War II veterans pass away, historical fiction takes on a new importance such as the enthralling series about U.S. Army investigator Billy Boyle by James R. Benn. Meticulously researched, Benn’s WWII novels rise above entertainment to give readers a deep insight into the machinations of war and the people affected by it. Through fiction, Benn allows readers to connect with those times in ways that most textbooks cannot.

As Benn shows time and again, the methods, technology and strategies have changed, but war’s emotional cost seldom wavers.

“Solemn Graves,” Benn’s 13th in this series, continues those high standards. Set a month after D-Day in 1944, Boyle arrives in Normandy to investigate the murder of Maj. David Jerome, the commanding officer of a signals company. The major was found in a villa close to the front lines where he had been housed during a covert assignment. Maj. Jerome’s mere presence there was to have been top secret — he was advising the “Ghost Army,” troops charged with creating “phantom action” to distract and misinform the Germans.

Boyle’s investigation centers on a young woman, too frightened to talk, an amoral Resistance leader, the villa’s owner, the area residents and members of the major’s own troops.

Benn invigorates “Solemn Graves” with a complex somber look at life in the midst of war where betrayals can come from your neighbor, who may be a Nazi spy, and gunfire is constantly in the background. Benn’s hallmark of meticulous research shines as he delivers a perspective view of how the residents treat those accused of collaboration horizontale, women who trade sex with German soldiers in exchange for food or other items.

Benn elegantly weaves in military strategy to move along the plot without overwhelming the story. Benn’s series has always been about how war affects both soldiers and civilians and how Boyle must make one death matter in the midst of so much carnage.

In a series known for excellence, “Solemn Graves” stands out.

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