James R. Benn books in order
James R. Benn is the American author of the critically acclaimed Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series, published by Soho Press.
He has also authored two stand-alone novels, On Desperate Ground (2000), and Souvenir (2012), both published by Open Road Media.
A graduate of the University of Connecticut, James also holds a MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University.
He plied his trade in the library and information technology sector for nearly four decades before resigning from his day job in 2011, in order to become a full-time writer.
Whenever he isn’t in the Gulf Coast of Florida, James can be found in Connecticut with his psychotherapist wife, Deborah Mandel.
The couple has two sons, Jeff and Ben, and seven grandchildren (Camille, Claudia, Emma, Luke, Nathaniel, Noah, Oliver).
James is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Author's Guild.
Genres: Historical Mystery, Historical Thriller, Mystery, Thriller
- On Desperate Ground (2000)
- Souvenir (2012)
Billy Boyle World War II Mystery
- Billy Boyle (2006)
- The First Wave (2007)
- Blood Alone (2008)
- Evil for Evil (2009)
- Rag and Bone (2010)
- A Mortal Terror (2011)
- Death's Door (2012)
- A Blind Goddess (2013)
- The Rest is Silence (2014)
- The White Ghost (2015)
- Blue Madonna (2016)
- The Devouring (2017)
- Solemn Graves (2018)
- When Hell Struck Twelve (2019)
- The Red Horse (2020)
- Road of Bones (2021)
Detailed book overview
On Desperate Ground is the story of men and women caught up in the death throes of Nazi Germany, struggling to maintain those things precious to them—life, an end to killing, and even sanity itself. Colonel Johann Faust has lost everyone he ever loved and feels he is going inexorably insane. He hears the haunting voice of his dead fiancée and the demons that roar through his mind as he perfects a plan to save Nazi Germany from defeat and insure a greater and deadlier new world war.
Captain Dieter Neukirk, once a protégé of Faust’s, is more concerned with saving the lives of his remaining men than sacrificing them in a fanatical last stand. Meanwhile, Elsa Klein, Dieter’s lover and the chief social worker at a Berlin hospital, is engaged in her own dangerous work, providing medical care and identity papers to hidden Jews in the city.
American Captain Mack Mackenzie, pulled from a military hospital before his wounds are healed, is assigned to investigate reports of a secret Nazi operation. Wanting only to make it home alive, Mack finds himself in a life and death struggle with unlikely allies and a ferociously determined opponent.
Americans and Germans alike are drawn to a hilltop in the remote German countryside, where they find themselves between powerful armies and forced into a terrible decision that could end one war or begin a new one.
Secrets trail an American soldier from his Depression upbringing to the cold winter battles in the Ardennes Forest in the last months of World War II, and through the postwar decades, as he struggles to keep his family from being torn apart while keeping the truth buried close to his heart.
Clay Brock, proprietor of Jake’s Tavern, has endured terrible losses throughout his life. In 1964, he is working to build a life for his wife and son, only to see everything he has worked for threatened by forces beyond his control. To keep his family from breaking apart, he must confront the very secret he has kept buried. For Clay, the war has never been over, and his foxhole buddy Jake Burnett never far from his thoughts.
At two crucial points in his life, as a young father and later as an old man at the dawn of a new and unfamiliar century, his memories draw him back until he must confront them and speak the truth. But at what cost?
Billy Boyle World War II Mystery
What's a twenty-two-year-old Irish cop from Boston doing at Beardsley Hall having lunch with Haakon, King of Norway, and the rest of the Norwegian government in exile? Billy Boyle himself wonders.
Back home, he'd just made detective (with a little help from family and friends) when war was declared. Unwilling to fight-and perhaps die-for England, he was relieved when his mother wangled a job for him on the staff of a general married to her distant cousin, Mamie. But the general turns out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower; his headquarters are in London, which is undergoing the Blitz; and Uncle Ike has a special assignment for Billy: He wants Billy to be his personal investigator.
Operation Jupiter, the impending invasion of Norway, is being planned. Billy is to catch a spy amongst the Norwegians. He doubts his own abilities, and a theft and two murders test his investigative powers. But to his own surprise, Billy proves to be a better detective than anyone suspected.
Lieutenant Billy Boyle reluctantly accompanies Major Samuel Harding, his boss, in the first boat to land on the shores of Algeria during the Allied invasion. Their task is to arrange the surrender of the Vichy French forces.
But there is dissension between the regular army, the local militia, and De Gaulle’s Free French. American black marketeers in league with the enemy divert medical supplies to the Casbah, leading to multiple murders that Billy must solve while trying to rescue the girl he loves, a captured British spy.
Billy Boyle has been landed in Sicily in advance of the main Allied invasion forces. But when he awakens in a field hospital after suffering a concussion, he has amnesia. He doesn't know who he is or where he is, much less what his mission is. His only clue is that he possesses a yellow silk handkerchief embroidered with the initial L and a lot of people seem to be eager to get their hands on this talisman.
As Billy gradually recovers his memory, he recalls that he is his "Uncle" Ike's personal investigator in the European Theater of War. Before Billy can remember the dangerous task that has been entrusted to him and do his best to carry it out, several people are murdered. Those opposing him include members of various factions of the American Mafia, as well as soldiers of the German and Italian Armies.
Billy finally remembers his name, but to truly resolve the question of his identity he must dig deep into his soul to discover what kind of man he is.
Autumn, 1943: Fifty Browning Automatic Rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition have been stolen from a US Army base in Northern Ireland. A few miles from the depot, the body of a known IRA man has been found with a bullet in the head and a pound note in his hand—the mark of an informer.
Fearing a German-sponsored IRA uprising, General Eisenhower, Billy’s uncle by marriage, sends him to recover the weapons before more damage is done. Billy searched for the missing weapons with the help of a beautiful Irish woman, an officer in British intelligence. Soldiers of the US Army, members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, as well as of local Protestant societies, and local Catholic laymen all come under suspicion.
Bodies begin to accumulate, and Billy finds unexpected challenges to his Boston-Irish upbringing and his own IRA sympathies. There are rogues on both sides, he learns.
American Lieutenant Billy Boyle is assigned to London by his uncle, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to investigate the murder of a Russian security officer in the buildup to D-Day. Billy recognizes that this is a politically charged case, pitting Allies against one another, and that he must proceed with caution.
The Polish contingent is incensed over evidence that implicates the Russians in the murder of hundreds of Polish prisoners in the so-called Katyn Forest Massacre, and Scotland Yard thinks this murder of a Soviet officer may be a revenge killing—perhaps perpetrated by Billy’s friend Kaz, a Polish baron in exile. But Billy doesn’t buy it.
Can he find the real murderer, exonerate his friend, and prevent Allied relations from falling to pieces at this critical moment of the war?
Two officers from the American troops stationed in Caserta, Italy, not far from Naples, have been found murdered. Lieutenant Norman Landry was found behind a supply tent with his neck snapped. Captain Max Galante, MD, was strangled on the same night, and his body left in a garden outside HQ. The MOs are completely different, and it seems like the officers had no connection to each other, but one frightening fact links the murders: each body was discovered with a single playing card: the Lieutenant, the ten of hearts; the Captain, the jack of hearts. The message seems to be clear--if the murderer isn't apprehended, the higher ranks will be next.
Billy is sent to Italy for the investigation, which grows increasingly sinister. But he has other things on his mind, too. His girlfriend, Diana, is on a very dangerous spy mission, and Billy doesn't know when--or if--he'll see her again. To make matters worse, Billy's just learned that his baby brother, Danny, is being sent over to Europe as an infantry replacement, an incredibly dangerous assignment. And all around him, he sees GIs suffering from combat fatigue preparing for another battle. As the invasion at Anzio begins, Billy needs to keep a cool head amidst fear and terror as the killer calculates his next moves.
When an American monsignor with high-level political contacts is found murdered at the foot of Death's Door, one of the five entrances to Saint Peter's Basilica, Lieutenant Billy Boyle is put on the case. To solve this murder, Boyle first has to be smuggled into Rome, while avoiding the Gestapo and Allied bombs. Then he must navigate Vatican politics and personalities—some are pro-Allied, others pro-Nazi, and the rest steadfastly neutral—further complicated by the Vatican's tenuous status as neutral territory in German-occupied Rome.
But Boyle's ready to risk it all because of one simple fact: Diane Seaton, his lover and a British spy, has gone missing while undercover in the Vatican. After he discovers that she's being held in the infamous Regina Coeli prison, just a short walk from the Vatican border, Boyle must decide whether he dares attempt a rescue, even though a failed effort would alert the Germans to his mission and risk an open violation of Vatican neutrality.
March, 1944: US Army Lieutenant Billy Boyle, back in England after a dangerous mission in Italy, is due for a little R&R, and also a promotion. But the now-Captain Boyle doesn't get to kick back and enjoy his leisure time because two upsetting cases fall into his lap at once.
The first is a personal request from an estranged friend: Sergeant Eugene "Tree" Jackson, who grew up with Billy in Boston, is part of the 617th Tank Destroyers, the all-African American battalion poised to make history by being the US Army's first combatant African American company. But making history isn't easy, and the 617 faces racism at every turn. One of Tree's men, a gunner named Angry Smith, has been arrested for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit, and faces the gallows if the real killer isn't found. Tree knows US top brass won't care about justice in this instance, and asks Billy if he'll look into it.
But Billy can't use any of his leave to investigate, because British intelligence agent Major Cosgrove puts him on a bizarre and delicate case. A British accountant has been murdered in an English village, and he may or may not have had some connection with the US Army—Billy doesn't know, because Cosgrove won't tell him. Billy is supposed to go into the village and investigate the murder, but everything seems fishy—he's not allowed to interrogate certain key witnesses, and his friends and helpers keep being whisked away. Billy is confused about whether Cosgrove even wants him to solve the murder, and why.
The good news is the mysterious murder gives Billy an excuse to spend time in and around the village where Tree and his unit are stationed. If he's lucky, maybe he can get to the bottom of both mysteries—and save more than one innocent life.
When an unidentified corpse washes ashore at Slapton Sands on England's southern coast, US Army Captain Billy Boyle and his partner, Lieutenant Piotr "Kaz" Kazimierz, are assigned to investigate. The Devonshire beach is the home to Operation Tiger, the top-secret rehearsal for the approaching D-Day invasion of Normandy, and the area is restricted; no one seems to know where the corpse could have come from. Luckily, Billy and Kaz have a comfortable place to lay their heads at the end of the day: Kaz's old school chum David lives close by and has agreed to host the two men during their investigation. Glad for a distraction from his duties, Billy settles into life at David's family's fancy manor, Ashcroft, and makes it his mission to get to know its intriguing cast of characters.
Just when Billy and Kaz begin to wrap up their case, they find themselves with not one soggy corpse on their hands but hundreds following a terrible tragedy during the D-Day rehearsal. To complicate things, life at Ashcroft has been getting tense: secret agendas, buried histories, and family grudges abound. Then one of the men meets a sudden demise. Was it a heart attack? Or something more sinister?
1943: In the midst of the brutal, hard-fought Solomon Islands campaign between the Allies and the Japanese forces, Lieutenant Billy Boyle receives an odd assignment: he’s sent by the powerful Kennedy family to investigate a murder in which PT skipper (and future president) Jack Kennedy has been implicated. The victim is a native coastwatcher, an allied intelligence operative, whom Kennedy discovered on the island of Tulagi with his head bashed in. That’s Kennedy’s story, anyhow.
Kennedy was recovering in the Navy hospital on the island after the sinking of his PT-109 motor torpedo boat. The military hasn’t decided yet whether to make him a hero for surviving the attack, or have him court-martialed for losing the boat, and the last thing the Kennedy clan wants is a murder charge hanging over his head. Billy knows firsthand that he shouldn’t trust Jack: the man is a charmer, a womanizer, and, when it suits his needs, a liar. But would he kill someone in cold blood? And if so, why? The first murder is followed by two more, and to find the killer, Billy must sort through a tangled, shifting web of motives and identities, even as combat rages all around him.
May 1944: Captain Billy Boyle is convicted on spurious charges of black market dealings stripped of his officer’s rank, reduced to private, and sentenced to three months’ hard labor.
But Billy is given an opportunity: if he takes on the incredibly dangerous mission of investigating a set of murders at the Allies’ safe house in the French town of Chaumont, he can avoid his punishment.
Parachuted in as part of a three-man team the night before the Normandy invasion, he has very little time to find the killer’s identity and lead a group escape back to England, with a whole army of foes nipping at his heels.
Europe, 1944: Captain Billy Boyle and his friend Lieutenant Piotr “Kaz” Kazimierz are sent to neutral Switzerland to work with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), investigating Swiss banks that are laundering looted Nazi gold. The US and Swiss governments are about to embark on diplomatic discussions regarding the Safehaven Protocols, aimed at limiting the amount of war materials exported by Switzerland to the Nazis, stemming the tide of looted gold, and preventing postwar use of Nazi wealth by war criminals. With the talks about to begin and the Gestapo ever present, the OSS wants Billy and Kaz to protect the participants, which turns out to be a very deadly task.
The plans go wrong from the beginning when Billy and Kaz crashland in France. As they make their way through occupied territory to the border, they meet Anton Lasho, a member of the Sinti ethnic group, whose family was slaughtered by the Nazis, and who is, in turn, a one-man Nazi-killing machine. They’ll need his help, because as they find once they make it across the border, Swiss banks are openly laundering gold “harvested” from concentration camps, and those who are profiting will do everything they can to protect their wealth and hide their dark secrets.
July, 1944, a full month after D-Day. Billy, Kaz, and Big Mike are assigned to investigate a murder close to the front lines in Normandy. An American officer has been found dead in a manor house serving as an advance headquarters outside the town of Trévières. Major Jerome was far from his own unit, arrived unexpectedly, and was murdered in the dark of night.
The investigation is shrouded in secrecy, due to the highly confidential nature of the American unit headquartered nearby in the Norman hedgerow country: the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, aka, the Ghost Army. This vague name covers a thousand-man unit with a unique mission within the US Army: to impersonate other US Army units by creating deceptions using radio traffic, dummy inflatable vehicles, and sound effects, causing the enemy to think they are facing large formations. Not even the units adjacent to their positions know what they are doing.
But there are German spies and informants everywhere, and Billy must tread carefully, unmasking the murder while safeguarding the secret of the Ghost Army—a secret which, if discovered, could turn the tide of war decisively against the Allies.
"In the 14th Billy Boyle mystery, US Army detective Billy Boyle and Lieutenant Kazimierz travel into the heart of Nazi-occupied Paris on a dangerous mission: ensure a traitor to the French Resistance unwittingly carries out a high-stakes deception campaign."
August, 1944: US Army detective Billy Boyle is assigned to track down a French traitor, code-named Atlantik, who is delivering classified Allied plans to German leaders in occupied Paris. The Resistance is also hot on his trail and out for blood, after Atlantik’s previous betrayals led to the death of many of their members.
But the plans Atlantik carries were leaked on purpose, a ruse devised to obscure the Allied army’s real intentions to bypass Paris in a race to the German border. Now Billy and Kaz are assigned to the Resistance with orders to not let them capture the traitor: the deception campaign is too important.
Playing a delicate game, the chase must be close enough to spur the traitor on and visible enough to ensure the Germans trust Atlantik. The outcome of the war may well depend on it.
England, 1944: Recovering from physical and psychological wounds sustained in the liberation of Paris, US Army detective Billy Boyle and Lieutenant Kazimierz are sent to a convalescent hospital in the English countryside—only to discover that St. Albans may have its own war secrets, including a killer.
Just days after the Liberation of Paris, US Army Detective Billy Boyle and Lieutenant Kazimierz are brought to Saint Albans Convalescent Hospital in the English countryside. Kaz has been diagnosed with a heart condition, and Billy is dealing with emotional exhaustion and his recent methamphetamine abuse.
Meanwhile, Billy’s love, Diana Seaton, has been taken to Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women, and Kaz’s sister, Angelika, who he recently learned was alive and working with the Polish Underground, has also been captured and transported to the same camp.
This news is brought by British Major Cosgrove, who asks Billy for help, unofficially, in solving what he thinks was the murder of a British agent recuperating at Saint Albans. The convalescent hospital is really a secret installation for those in the world of clandestine warfare to recover from wounds, physical and emotional. Some are allowed to leave; others are deemed security risks and are detained there.
When a second body is found, it is evident that a killer is at work in this high-security enclave. Now Billy must carry out his covert investigation while maintaining his tenuous recovery, shielding his actions from suspicious hospital authorities, and dodging the unknown murderer.
It’s September 1944, and the US is poised to launch Operation Frantic, a shuttle-bombing mission to be conducted by American aircraft based in Great Britain, southern Italy, and three Soviet airfields in the Ukraine.
Tensions are already high between the American and Russian allies when two intelligence agents—one Soviet, one American—are found dead at Poltava, one of the Ukrainian bases. Billy is brought in to investigate, and this time he's paired, at the insistence of the Soviets, with a KGB agent who has his own political and personal agenda.
In the course of an investigation that quickly spirals out of control, Billy is aided by the Night Witches, a daring regiment of young Soviet women flying at night at very low altitudes, bombing hundreds of German installations.
It’s a turning point in the war, and allied efforts hang by a thread. Unless Billy and his KGB partner can solve the murders in an atmosphere of mutual distrust, Operation Frantic is doomed.