A day in the life? That is quite a challenge for any colleague of Captain Billy Boyle. There is seldom a normal day to be had at the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. And when we are out on assignment, every day is different. And often deadly.
But where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lieutenant Piotr Kazimierz of the Polish Army-in-Exile, and I work at SHAEF headquarters, Grosvenor Square, London, in General Eisenhower’s Office of Special Investigations. I am also a baron of the Augustus clan, and likely one of the few members of that ancient nobility left alive today.
When the Germans and the Russians invaded Poland, I was at university in England.
My family was not. Now they are dead, murdered by the invaders, both Nazi and Soviet, as they eliminated all forms of opposition to their rule.
But there may be a survivor. I have recently learned that my younger sister Angelika may be alive, and working with the Underground Army in occupied Poland. A dangerous undertaking, after five years of Nazi rule. I hold out hope that we will be reunited one day, if we both survive the war.
Or, if we both do not.
But enough of my family history. You want to know what a normal day in the life of Billy Boyle is like. Today is an anomaly. We are at SHAEF, recently returned from a mission to Switzerland. The Swiss are famous for neutrality, chocolate, and cuckoo clocks. We found their neutrality over-stated, although the chocolate was quite good. I never did hear a cuckoo clock (perhaps it was the gunfire). Our job was to investigate reports of looted gold being laundered by Swiss banks, in order to keep the Nazi war machine well-funded. The Swiss bankers and politicians were not particular about where the gold came from, be it assets of conquered nations or pulled from the teeth of victims in concentration camps. But that is a long story, and has nothing to do with today.
Yesterday we landed outside of London, after a long flight from neutral Portugal. We have been allowed a few day’s rest, which at SHAEF means catching up on paperwork. I am reading intelligence reports concerning the activities of various factions of the French Resistance in Normandy, which is our next destination. Billy is reading Stars and Stripes, his feet up on his desk, a cup of coffee close at hand. He would say a cup of joe, in that marvelous way Americans have of mangling the English language while at the same time using the perfect words to do it.
Billy is a detective. A very good one, from a family of detectives. He is related, in some distant fashion, to General Eisenhower. Some people say he was appointed to the general’s staff because of that. Perhaps. But contrary to what many thought when he first arrived in England two years ago, he has not avoided danger. Far from it.
Myself, I courted it. After all those I loved in this world were taken from me, I did not care if I lived or died. Billy has been a good friend, and has watched out for me through good times and bad. And in a world at war, there are many bad times.
So, Billy is a good detective, as I said. But when it comes to reading intelligence summaries, he is less well suited. As an academic, I quite enjoy it. This is what makes us such a good team. My brains (if I may be so bold) and his instincts. Not to mention his bravery.
We will likely need all those attributes in this next assignment. It has been a month since D-Day, on the sixth of June, 1944, and the Allied forces are stuck in the bocage country of Normandy, where the Germans are putting up a stiff defense. There is something afoot with the various Resistance factions, and we are being sent to investigate. As areas in France have been liberated, a violent surge of reprisals and executions has taken place against collaborators, real and suspected. It seems some old scores are being settled, which may or may not have anything to do with the Occupation. These excesses are being called the épuration sauvage, or the Wild Purge. According to accounts, it is aptly named.
This is a normal day, then. I read reports, and Billy drinks coffee. But once we arrive in Normandy, I think our days of rest will be at an end. The Wild Purge awaits.
You can read more about Piotr in The Devouring, the 12th book in the “Billy Boyle WWII” mystery series.
A murder in wartime Switzerland reveals Swiss complicity with the Nazis during World War II
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.
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Meet the author
James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries. The debut title, Billy Boyle, was named a top five mystery of 2006 by Book Sense and was a Dilys Award nominee. A Blind Goddess was long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award; The Rest Is Silence was a best novel nominee for the Barry Award. The twelfth and most current novel (9/12/17) is The Devouring, which recently garnered a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
He and his wife Deborah Mandel divide their time between Connecticut and the Gulf Coast of Florida. Benn lives by two writing quotes: one from Oscar Wilde; “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to a chair.” The other from novelist Rachel Basch; “The story has to move down, as well as forward.” Both are simple, profound, and complex. Connect with James at jamesrbenn.com
All comments are welcomed.