Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Book Review: The First Wave by James R. Benn (Billy Boyle #2)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, action
Cons: Tries to do a bit too much
The Bottom Line:
War in Africa
Finds Billy on the front lines
Fast paced history

Operation: Algeria

I’m making a conscious effort to continue some of the new series I’ve started this year, so I picked up The First Wave recently.  This is the second book in the Billy Boyle Series set during World War II.

This book picks up in November of 1942.  Almost a year after entering the war, the Americans are officially part of their first campaign – invading French Algeria in northern Africa.  It’s not a popular choice since some of the French are already on the Allies’ side, but not all of them are.  Billy is supposed to use the attack as a cover to go in and meet up with the Free French forces to make the surrender faster once the invasion is underway.

Things don’t go as planned, however, and Billy finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue.  A murder at the newly established army hospital appears to expose a medicine smuggling operation.  Can Billy negotiate the politics of war to find out who is profiting from the newest in medical technology?  And will the investigation allow him an opportunity to rescue his love?

This is the second in the series, but I already recommend you read the books in order.  This book has some major spoilers for the first book in the series.  Honestly, it is hard not to considering how the events of that first book impacted the characters.  So if you want to see those events unfold unspoiled, start at the beginning.

The plot of this book tries to be part war story, part mystery, and part spy story.  It almost pulls it off.  Unfortunately, the divided focus leads to what feels like pacing issues.  Don’t get me wrong, I was always caught up in the action, but at times I felt like the history that was unfolding around Billy was slowing down the mystery.

Not that I was ever bored with the book.  Please don’t misunderstand that.  There is so much action, and Billy was in the thick of every little bit of it.  I was glued to the book multiple times as I read to find out just how Billy would survive the latest crisis he was facing.

And the mystery is well done with everything coming together for a logical conclusion.

This isn’t one of the light cozies I normally read.  Nor should it be.  War isn’t light or fun.  The dark definitely hit me harder than I was expecting, however.

Probably because the events of the book impact the characters directly.  And, since I love the characters, it really hit me.  These are well drawn characters, and because they are so likeable, we want to see them get through the war unscathed.  Fictional and real people cross paths effortless, and all of them feel like they were really part of what happened.

And don’t think this book is all dark.  Billy narrates the events with some observations that help lighten the mood at appropriate moments.  I grinned and chuckled a few times.

Again, it is fascinating learning about history while I was reading the book.  Yes, I know some things are fictionalized, but the author’s note at the end helps us figure out what he bent for fictional purposes.  It makes me appreciate those who fought so much more.

The First Wave is well worth reading.  This is a book to pick up when you have time to get lost in the pages and appreciate the fiction and history being woven together.

Check out the rest of the Billy Boyle series.

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