Billy Boyle is back. This time, in James R. Benn’s fifth, fascinating World War II mystery, he’s on the hunt for the murderer of a Russian officer in London. Narrator Marc Vietor is also back, vividly bringing to life the latest assignment for the Boston police detective handpicked by “Uncle Ike” Eisenhower to serve as his personal investigator. Vietor has a soothing voice that makes listening to the latest Boyle mystery as pleasant as savoring a glass of single-malt scotch by a warm, glowing fire. And while Boyle may be from Boston’s Irish South Side, Vietor’s voice contains a hint of an English accent mixed with softened “Southie” vowels, a tone that makes sense since Boyle has been stationed in Europe for two years by this point in the series, and has spent much of his time in England. More than anything, Vietor’s narration gives the Boyle series a wistful air, a longing for a time when good and evil seemed more straightforward.
But things are never what they seem in Rag and Bone. While the Nazis remain the bad guys, hints of the Cold War soon to come can be felt throughout the novel. Technically, the Russians are on the Allies’ side, but it’s never quite clear who’s spying on whom. And Boyle, freshly promoted to First Lieutenant, must be careful of who he trusts in war-ravaged London as he investigates this mysterious murder. This includes Boyle’s longtime friend, Kaz, an aristocratic Polish baron living in the Dorchester Hotel. Kaz claims to be working for the Polish government, but he soon becomes the prime suspect in the murder of the Russian officer. Boyle has his doubts, but he remains a detective first, relying on facts and careful observation to determine exactly who’s the killer.
Even if you’ve never listened to a Billy Boyle mystery, you can jump straight into Rag and Bone and not miss a beat, especially since it stands on its own as one of the better books in this tightly written series. Ken Ross