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Book review: 'Solemn Graves' a standout in WWII series

Correspondent

‘Solemn Graves’ By James R. Benn. Soho Crime, 360 pages, $26.95

As the years go by and more WWII veterans pass away, historical fiction takes on a new importance. Such is the case with 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 and 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 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.

Meet the author

James R. Benn will discuss “Solemn Graves” at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790, murderonthebeach.com.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

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