“Solemn Graves is another must-read entry in the outstanding Billy Boyle Second World War mysteries, offering fascinating details about the unique, thousand-man military unit known as the Ghost Army whose courageous acts of tactical deception are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of soldier’s lives.”
Set in the summer of 1944, this is the thirteenth adventure for Boyle, the Boston detective turned U.S. Army investigator assigned sensitive WWII military investigations by his ‘uncle’ General Eisenhower.
Here, he travels to a farmhouse near the town of Trévières in Normandy to investigate the murder of Major David Jerome, commanding officer of the Signals Company, Second Armored Division, who has been found with his throat cut in a chateau.
Unfortunately, the crime scene offers up few clues and few witnesses, except for the ‘haunted, fragile, ethereal beauty’ Yvonne Virot, who discovered the dead body. Yvonne, whose dress is stained with Jerome’s blood, is a houseguest of wealthy widow Madame Regine Janvier, owner of the property and a former French Resistance agent.
The trauma Yvonne has suffered at the hands of the Germans has resulted in her becoming mute, and so she can offer little to help Boyle’s investigation.
Other figures in the small community are suspiciously tight-lipped and equally unhelpful, and by far the most dubious character of all is Claude Legrand, a liaison with the Resistance who is actively involved in killing and torturing suspected German collaborators.
Feeling like he’s getting nowhere with his investigation, Boyle and his regular buddies, Staff Sergeant ‘Big Mike’ Miecznikowski and Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, head out in search of the Second Armored Division and come across the uniquely gifted Ghost Army.
As usual, Benn crafts a highly entertaining murder mystery, as well as eloquently reflecting on the horrors of war and bringing to light less discussed wartime incidents, such as the brutal punishment inflicted on women during the épuration légale (wild purge).
My review of Solemn Graves is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.