Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Rag and Bone"

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. The second, The First Wave, carries on a few months later during the Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa. The third, Blood Alone, continues the story through the Allied invasion of Sicily; and Evil for Evil, the fourth volume, follows Billy Boyle to Northern Ireland where he is sent at the request of the British government to investigate links between the Irish Republican Army and the Germans.

Benn applied the Page 69 Test to Rag and Bone, the latest novel in the series, and reported the following:
In Rag and Bone, Lieutenant Billy Boyle is sent to London in the midst of a Luftwaffe bombing offensive to investigate the murder of a Soviet embassy official. There's reason to believe that the crime could be connected to the recent discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest, where thousands of Polish officers were executed. Is there a killer targeting Soviet officials in revenge for the Katyn Massacre? If so, the diplomatic stakes couldn't be higher as the uneasy relationship between the Soviets and the other allied powers hangs in the balance. Further complicating matters, Scotland Yard names Billy's friend Kaz, now working for the Polish government in exile, as the prime suspect. Billy must track the killer through London's criminal underworld and the higher strata of Allied diplomatic circles to save his friend.

The Page 69 Test finds Billy paying a visit to the Soviet Embassy, where he gets his first lesson in Marxist diplomacy, and it is not what he expects. In this passage, he is introduced to Captain Kiril Sidorov, likely an NKVD agent, who tells him Soviet officials are not allowed to meet foreigners alone.
“Do not mind Sergei. We do not meet alone with westerners. Sergei was available, although he speaks English poorly. Still, it allows us to follow the rules laid down by our security people.”

“To protect you against provocateurs,” I said.

“I see you have been lectured by our reception committee. They are sometimes over-enthusiastic, but these precautions are necessary, believe me. The Revolution has enemies beyond the Nazis. Czarists and other √©migr√© groups are based here in London, and none of them wish us well. But never mind about our security procedures. Tell me how I can help you.”

“General Eisenhower asked me to look into the death of Captain Egorov,” I said, avoiding the distinction between murder and assassination. “He’s also concerned about security, and wanted to be certain there was no further trouble.”

“You work for General Eisenhower?”

“Yes, I’m on his staff.”

“Please excuse me, Lieutenant Boyle, if I fail to be impressed by a mere lieutenant detailed to this investigation. It does not signal true concern on the part of our American allies.” Sidorov smiled, almost apologetically. He looked half serious and half amused at the lines he had to speak. He wasn’t what I expected. He was stern, but not harsh. He spoke the jargon of Communism naturally, but lightly, as if we were all in on the joke. It occurred to me that the Soviets picked their personnel for foreign posts very carefully, and that his casual veneer of nonchalance was well practiced. Possibly dangerous.
Billy is right in his assessment, and the mysterious and definitely dangerous Kiril Sidorov has a major role to play in Rag and Bone, once again validating the Page 69 test!
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue