Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book Review: Blood Alone by James R. Benn (Billy Boyle #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Rich historical detail, great characters, strong mystery
Cons: Detail do cause pacing issues at time
The Bottom Line:
Missing Memory
With a mission to complete
Another rich book




Can Billy Recover His Memory in Time to Complete His Mission?

Last year, I started a series I’d heard about for years, the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries.  I have a lot of catching up to do, and I got started on that with Blood Alone, the third mystery in the series.

As this book opens, Billy Boyle is waking up in a field hospital.  He can’t remember who he is or what he is doing there.  Slowly, he begins to piece together things like his name and the fact that he is in Sicily in the summer of 1942.  He also believes he has an important mission to carry out for his uncle, General Eisenhower.  But he can’t remember what that mission is.  However, he knows he has to keep moving, especially when he stumbles upon a dead body.  Following the only clues he has, he sets out across the island, soon joined by a local doctor.  Will he recover his memory in time?

Amnesia as a plot device can be good or bad, but here it works well.  It isn’t long before Billy is remembering what we as fans of the series already know, but it comes slowly enough that if you are new to the series, you aren’t getting long passages of exposition early on in the story.  Once Billy does remember his mission and what happened, we are fully engrossed in the story.

I will issue a warning to you if you haven’t started the series yet.  There are some pretty major spoilers for the first two books in the series here.  That’s because there are major events in the books that shape who Billy and others in the cast are.  Those events also shape how the characters are developing in this book.  As a fan, I fully appreciate that character development, so it is a great thing.  But if you want to experience the twists of Billy’s life completely unspoiled, I definitely recommend you start at the beginning.

Once again, we are fully immersed in Billy’s world.  Author James R. Benn does a fantastic job of bringing Sicily to life for us.  We also get to see the aftermath of the war both on Billy and others in the army but also on the civilians of Sicily.

But this comes with a tradeoff for us.  At times, the plot gets sidetracked by these details.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a strong plot that compels us through the entire book.  But there are some scenes that distract Billy and us from the overall story of what is going on.  I am conflicted by this because on one hand, they make the characters and setting richer, but on the other hand the pacing could be better.

Don’t misunderstand, there is plenty of action.  There are some action hero vibes here, in fact.  As long as you are willing to suspend disbelief at how much Billy goes through, you’ll be fine.

This is definitely a step away from the cozies I normally read and review with a smattering of foul language and violence.  That is kept to a minimum, however.

I do want to go back to the plot for a minute.  Behind all the action there is a solid mystery with plenty of twists and red herrings.  When I reached the end, it all made sense, and I was surprised by some of the events along the way.

Blood Alone is definitely a book to be savored.  If you enjoy historical mysteries, you’ll be glad you picked up this series.

Get lost in time with the rest of the Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries.

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