Blue Madonna

Written by James R. Benn
Review by Judith Starkston

This is the eleventh in Benn’s Billy Boyle mystery series set during WWII. “Uncle Ike” drops Billy behind enemy lines just as the beaches of Normandy fill with Allied soldiers. Billy goes to a chateau where two undercover women shelter downed airmen. Billy’s not sent to solve murders, but that job becomes part of the mission if he is going to get one necessary man back to England and keep both himself and his love interest, Diane, safe.

Balancing traditional crime solving with wartime tragedy and intrigue, Benn portrays Nazi horrors, along with crafty characters and good twists that surprise the reader. The opening, dark machinations in England hold interest, but the high suspense begins as Boyle heads into enemy territory. The love story aspect is lukewarm, partly because Billy’s love must hide her identity and partly because Benn depends on the reader’s awareness from earlier books. Boyle doesn’t think about her until she crops up in the plot, so we’re not persuaded of his love. That is a minor weakness in a compelling combination of mystery and war thriller.