A Mortal Terror (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series #6) [NOOK Book]


In his time investigating crimes for both the Boston cops and General Ike's European forces, Lieutenant Billy Boyle hasn't encountered a serial killer. But now it looks like he may--a serial killer with a particularly frightening agenda.

Two officers from the American troops stationed in Caserta, Italy, not far from Naples, have been found murdered. Lieutenant Norman Landry was found behind a supply tent with his neck snapped. Captain Max...

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A Mortal Terror (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series #6)

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In his time investigating crimes for both the Boston cops and General Ike's European forces, Lieutenant Billy Boyle hasn't encountered a serial killer. But now it looks like he may--a serial killer with a particularly frightening agenda.

Two officers from the American troops stationed in Caserta, Italy, not far from Naples, have been found murdered. Lieutenant Norman Landry was found behind a supply tent with his neck snapped. Captain Max Galante, MD, was strangled on the same night, and his body left in a garden outside HQ. The MOs are completely different, and it seems like the officers had no connection to each other, but one frightening fact links the murders: each body was discovered with a single playing card: the Lieutenant, the ten of hearts; the Captain, the jack of hearts. The message seems to be clear--if the murderer isn't apprehended, the higher ranks will be next.
Billy is sent to Italy for the investigation, which grows increasingly sinister. But he has other things on his mind, too. His girlfriend, Diana, is on a very dangerous spy mission, and Billy doesn't know when--or if--he'll see her again. To make matters worse, Billy's just learned that his baby brother, Danny, is being sent over to Europe as an infantry replacement, an incredibly dangerous assignment. And all around him, he sees GIs suffering from combat fatigue preparing for another battle. As the invasion at Anzio begins, Billy needs to keep a cool head amidst fear and terror as the killer calculates his next moves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Historical background almost overpowers the personal foreground in Benn's ambitious sixth Billy Boyle WWII mystery (after 2010's Rag and Bone). As the U.S. Army fights its way up the Italian boot, Billy, a former Boston cop who's now a military investigator for his Uncle Ike (i.e., General Eisenhower), pursues a serial killer who's targeting Allied officers. Combat and the psycho steadily reduce the list of GI suspects. Billy realizes that the murderer is playing games with him after he discovers that his kid brother, Danny, is a new replacement somehow assigned to the platoon he's investigating. Unfortunately, as Billy realizes, looking for one particular killer during a war is difficult, especially in the bloody, chaotic Anzio beachhead. Benn tries hard to keep the focus on Billy's emotional crisis, but readers may find it easy to be distracted by the larger conflict. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“A fast-paced saga set in a period when the fate of civilization still hangs in the balance."—Wall Street Journal

"Captivating.... Benn does a superb job of simultaneously capturing the personal anguish of war and creating a splendid adventure novel."—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Solid wartime adventure, well grounded in historical detail, and boasting a challenging mystery to boot.”—Booklist

“A thrilling, fast-paced book, a great yarn wonderfully told. The mystery ploy is top notch with the ‘who,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ aspects of the murders as puzzling and suspenseful as anyone could wish…Author Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole. If you haven't already been hooked by this series, this book will do it and have you reaching back for the previous five.”—Mystery Scene

Praise for the Billy Boyle series:

"Spirited wartime storytelling."—The New York Times Book Review

"An instant classic."—Lee Child, Gone Tomorrow

"What a great read, full of action, humor and heart."—Louise Penny, Still Life

"Terrific.... Razor sharp."—Joseph Finder, Vanished

Library Journal
War has taken its toll on First Lt. Billy Boyle, and he's not alone in his misery. It's January 1944, and he's trying to figure out why he has been dispatched to Naples in his sixth outing (after Rag and Bone). If you're new to the series, Billy, a police detective back home, works for his Uncle Ike (yes, that Ike) as a military private investigator. Simply put, the general trusts Billy because he's family. In this captivating episode, a serial killer from the inside (dubbed the Red Heart Killer because he leaves playing cards on his victims) is targeting Allied officers, moving systematically up the ranks, and it's getting pretty tense in the officers' quarters. Billy is under the gun to find the madman before he runs out of cards. VERDICT Jump right in with this winner of a historical detective entry; don't worry if you haven't read all the others (I hadn't). Benn does a superb job of simultaneously capturing the personal anguish of war and creating a splendid adventure novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569479957
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Series: Billy Boyle World War II Mystery Series, #6
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 80,288
  • File size: 471 KB

Meet the Author

James R. Benn is the author of five previous book in the Billy Boyle series: Billy Boyle, The First Wave, Blood Alone, Evil for Evil, and Rag & Bone. He has been a librarian for many years. He lives in Hadlyme, Connecticut.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Kim Philby owed me one. I’d helped him out back in London,
and he told me to ask if I ever needed a favor. Well, now that I
needed one, I didn’t hesitate. I wanted to be there when—not if,
when—Diana Seaton returned from her mission.

Philby was the only person who could make that happen, so I
was glad he was in my debt. As head of the British Secret Intelligence
Service’s Mediterranean operations, he controlled all the spies,
saboteurs, and agents operating in neutral nations and behind enemy
lines from Portugal to Turkey. That included Diana Seaton of the
Special Operations Executive, who had been sent into Rome, disguised
as a nun, to establish contact with a pro-Allied circle within
the Vatican.

How do I, a lowly lieutenant, know all this? Because Diana
Seaton is the love of my life, and I worry about her day and night.
A lot of people worry about each other in this war, but unlike them,
I can do something about it. I work for General Dwight David
Eisenhower, which gives me access to secrets out of the reach of most
colonels and many generals. The fact that in private I call him Uncle
Ike doesn’t hurt either. It allows me to get involved with men like
Kim Philby. When Philby called two days ago to tell me he was good
for the favor I’d asked, Uncle Ike gave me a five-day leave and told
me to stay out of trouble. I’m going to Switzerland, I told him, how
much trouble could there be in a neutral country?

As I stamped my feet on the station platform, trying to keep
warm, I thought I might have been off the mark. It was cold, and
the sun was casting its last feeble yellow rays sideways from the west.
I watched the German and Italian border guards, about fifty yards
away, their frosted breath trailing like plumes as they walked. Chiasso
is a border town, and the railroad runs right through it. The platform
stretches from the station on the Swiss side south to the Italian
border, marked by a customs house and crossing gate. Philby and I
had been waiting an hour, nervously watching the train halted
behind the gate, still on Italian soil. Diana was on board, or so I’d
hoped, until a half dozen men in leather trench coats entered the
train, and a platoon of German soldiers with submachine guns surrounded
it. The black locomotive released a sigh of steam from its
boiler, as if straining at the leash for the final stretch.

“Gestapo,” Philby had said. “Not to worry. She has good travel
papers, signed by the German general commanding rail transport in
Northern Italy.”

“The Gestapo can sniff out phony papers, no matter how good.”

“Oh, they’re the real thing, old boy,” Philby said, clenching his pipe
between his teeth. “This general is quite the churchgoer, especially
since he arranged for the transport of several thousand Italian Jews.”

“To where?” I knew the Nazis were rounding up Jews everywhere,
and shooting a lot of them. But I didn’t know where they
kept transporting them to, or why. It didn’t make sense when they
needed railroads for troops and supplies, but then nothing in this
war made much sense.

“To those camps in the east we keep hearing about. This old general
began to feel guilty, more so after we landed in Italy. He let it be
known he’d be glad to do a small favor for the Vatican now and then.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to give him Diana’s name? Or whatever name
she’s using?”

“Yes, it would be,” Philby said absently, as he knocked the ash
from his pipe and jammed it into his coat pocket. “That’s why she’s
coming out with a group of twenty nuns. Didn’t want to tell you the
details before now, you understand.”

“Sure, security. Lot of that going around.”

“The cover story is that they’re being sent to a convent outside
of Zurich, to relieve crowding in the Holy See. Solid on all counts.
Look there,” he said, pointing to the train. A rush of black leather
exited, accompanied by shouted orders. The troops surrounding the
train trotted to their vehicles. The Italian border guards stood back,
melting into the shadows, mere spectators on their own soil. Two
burly Gestapo men stepped down from a train car, holding a civilian
by his elbows, guiding him to the waiting sedan. The civilian looked
around, his head swiveling wildly as he sought some way out. He
dug in his heels, but the two goons carried him easily. Then he
dropped, as if he’d fainted. One of the Germans pulled back his leg
to give him a kick, and all of a sudden the prisoner was up, pushing
his tormentor and twisting free. He ran along the train, his arms
pumping, and leapt from the platform, hitting the ground hard,
rolling and coming up at a run, limping as one leg threatened to give
out. Pistol shots cracked and gray dust kicked up at his feet. Then
an MP40 submachine gun sounded, the harsh burst slamming into
his back. He took another two steps, perhaps not realizing that death
had burrowed into muscle and bone. His momentum propelled him
forward, almost in a cartwheel, until his body fell limply across the
track. The sigh of steam flowed from the locomotive again, a
mournful sound that seemed to apologize for the sudden death of a
passenger so close to his final destination.

The Germans pushed the Italian border guards forward, ordering
them to retrieve the body. As they grabbed the fellow by his feet and
pulled, they left a streak of crimson that pointed, like an arrow, to
the Swiss side.

“Lucky fellow,” Philby said. “That was at least quick.”

“One of yours?”

“No. Some poor bastard on the run. Deserter, maybe. Probably
betrayed by some other chap looking to save his own skin. Here we
go,” he said as the gate was raised and the train finally lurched forward,
its giant steel wheels rolling over the bloodstains as it left Nazi

The train arrived at the platform, and lights switched on above
us as the sun gave up and set below the looming mountains. To the
south, a blanket of darkness settled over occupied Italy, where the
blackout was complete, not a glimmer allowed to guide Allied
bombers. The Swiss side seemed gaudy in comparison, bright lights
shining on gray pavement and orange tile roofs. Maybe I’d gotten
used to the blackout in London, but the glare of streetlights and
lamps was blinding. I shaded my eyes and strained to see into the
compartments as they rolled by, the train moving slowly until its
caboose was safely on neutral ground.

The compartment doors opened, and the passengers spilled out
with a mix of nervous chatter and ashen faces. Some looked like
businessmen, others refugees. Wartime travel to a neutral country
provided for odd traveling companions. Then I saw them, two cars
down: a procession of black habits, led by an older nun. They wore
cloaks against the cold and white wimples encased their faces, their
black veils prohibiting sideways glances, their eyes focused on the
ground at their feet.

“Hold,” Philby said in a low voice, placing his hand on my arm.
“Don’t say anything. We don’t know who may be watching the

I saw her. Not her face, but her walk. Nothing could hide that
confident swing of her shoulders, the aristocratic posture, the determined
steps. It was Diana, her head bowed a fraction less than the
others. The nun in the lead said something in Italian, and they turned
to enter the open doors of the station. Diana glanced up, looking in
all directions. Her eyes met mine and flashed wide for a split second,
then disappeared as she assumed the obedient, demure posture of a
nun following her abbess.

Philby and I fell in a few steps behind them as I watched for signs
of anyone trailing us. I pulled my hat brim low over my eyes, blending
in with the crowd, while trying to spot anyone who didn’t. I was in
civilian clothes, and if it hadn’t been for the threat of German agents
in similar attire, not to mention the blood on the tracks, I might have
talked myself into enjoying this Swiss interlude. Instead, I saw every-
thing with suspicious eyes, not trusting that anyone was who he said
he was. I wasn’t, Diana certainly wasn’t, so how could we assume we
were surrounded by harmless Swiss neutrals?

We trailed the procession of nuns out onto the street. They
walked up the Corso San Gottardo, each clutching a small black
suitcase, dodging the pedestrians strolling along the thoroughfare.
Wind whipped at their cloaks and veils, the black fabric snapping
like flags in a parade. Passing restaurants and shops with unaccustomed
light spilling out into the street, the nuns made a beeline for
the Chiesa di Santa Maria, a bronze-roofed church in a small, parklike
setting. Trees surrounded two buildings to the rear, and I guessed
this was where they’d be staying. As they entered the church, Philby
guided me down a narrow side street, where a gray sedan sat idling.
We got in the backseat and the driver took off without a word, circling
around to the rear of the church. The car stopped and Philby
got out, holding the car door open. A church door opened, the light
from inside briefly framing the silhouette of a nun, who dashed to
the car and slid into the backseat. Philby slammed the door and got
in the front, a split second before the driver accelerated and sped
along the gravel drive and out onto the road.

“Billy,” Diana said, glancing toward Philby, her eyes showing a
curious mix of surprise, joy, and fear. “Why are you here? Is something

“Nothing wrong, my dear,” said Philby. “I simply owed Lieutenant
Boyle a favor and brought him along to see the sights.”

“Then you have been busy since I last saw you,” Diana said to
me, her face relaxing. We’d last seen each other in Naples, a month
ago, before an assignment from Uncle Ike cut our time together short.

“Yes. I asked if I could tag along when your mission was finished.
I never thought you’d be brought out so soon.”

“It was . . . sudden,” she said. Her voice wavered, and I thought
tears welled up in her eyes, but she regained her composure in an
instant, running the rosary beads she wore through her fingers.

“What’s the connection?” Diana asked in a low voice, nodding
toward Philby.

“It’s a long story.”

“They all are,” Diana said, as she took my hand in hers and gazed
out the window. She rubbed the moisture away and stared at the
traffic, the streetlights, the glow from windows—all the signs of
normalcy that had become so abnormal in these years of war. She
blinked rapidly as the tears returned, and one dropped onto the back
of my hand.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Long and sad,” she said. “Every story is so long and so sad.” She
gripped my hand until her knuckles turned white. We drove on
through the peaceful streets in silence broken only by the sound of
muffled sobs.

Chapter Two
The Hotel Turconi was located just north of Chiasso. It
sat atop a hill at the start of a wave of foothills and high ridges
cresting the Alps themselves. It was a small place, perfect for
knowing who your fellow guests were, and for watching the winding
road that led up from the border town. When we’d first checked in,
the owner nodded to Philby like a long-time customer, the kind
who liked to be left alone. He didn’t blink at our passports, both
Irish, and reserved a table in an alcove for our meals, set apart from
the other diners. Our papers and our names were phony, but the
money Philby handed over wasn’t. I hoped he wasn’t stingy with
the king’s pound notes, since I didn’t like the idea of German agents
paying us a visit while we slept.

The owner himself served us. Wild mushroom soup and roasted
duck breast with apples, washed down with a couple of bottles of
Merlot Bianco—from his cousin’s vineyard, he was proud to tell us.
It beat dining in London, with all the rationing restrictions, even
though Diana was still dressed as a nun.

“Why don’t you change?” I asked as our host cleared the dishes
and Philby fired up his pipe. “Do you need clothes?”

“Kim,” Diana said. “Didn’t you tell him?”

“Tell me what?” I wanted to know.

“The mission isn’t over,” she said, lowering her voice. “I needed
to report something in person, so I asked to come out. I’ll go back
as soon as I can.”

“I will be the one to make that decision, my dear,” Philby said in
his best professorial tone. “That’s why I didn’t tell Boyle. I’m not sure
myself if you should go back. First, I need to hear what was so important,
and how you came to learn of it. The Germans are great ones for
playing games, and it could be false intelligence designed to draw out
an agent, forcing you to take the sort of intemperate action you did.”

“This is not the sort of intelligence they would plant,” Diana
said. “And I am not intemperate.” She drank her wine and set the
glass down hard, punctuating her statement.

“Very well,” Philby said, shrugging his acceptance. “We can
discuss the matter later, in private.”

“No,” Diana said. “This is not something to be hidden away and
kept secret. Billy does work for General Eisenhower, after all.” She
made it sound like Philby was an idiot, not her spymaster boss.

“And I am in the business of managing secrets,” Philby said. “Not
broadcasting them before their usefulness can be determined.”

“I saw a report from the bishop of Berlin, Konrad von Preysing,”
Diana said, ignoring Philby, who refilled his wine glass and eyed her
with faint amusement, as if she were a precocious child on the verge
of misbehavior. “It was sent directly to the pope, and one of his
secretaries typed a copy . . .”

“If you insist on proceeding, move on to the facts,” Philby said.
“There is no need to detail your sources for Lieutenant Boyle.” It
was a way for him to assert his authority while allowing her to

Diana waited for a heartbeat, then nodded. “Kurt Gerstein is an
Obersturmführer in the SS. A lieutenant. He joined the Nazis in 1933,
but quickly became disillusioned and spoke out against their antireligious
policies. For his involvement with various Christian youth
groups, he was thrown out of the party, severely beaten, and briefly
imprisoned for anti-Nazi activities.”

“So how did he end up in the SS?” Philby asked, an eyebrow
raised in disbelief.

“In early 1941, his sister-in-law died in a mental institution.”

“Nazi euthanasia?” Philby asked.

“Yes. At that point, Gerstein became committed to acting against
the regime. He apparently decided the best way to do that was from
within. A few months after her death, he joined the SS. Either they
didn’t check his records, or his technical skills made them willing to
overlook them. He had an engineering degree, and had completed
his first year of medical school. So they brought him into the
Technical Disinfection Department of the SS.”

“What, do they clean garbage cans?” I asked, wondering where
all this was leading.

“No. They are in charge of disinfecting the clothes of all the Jews
they kill. Jews, Gypsies, Communists, opponents of the regime,
anyone who is sent to the extermination camps.”

I’d read about the concentration camps, where enemies of the
Nazis were sent, and I knew the SS and the Gestapo had no qualms
about shooting whomever they wanted. But this felt different. A whole
structure dedicated to extermination? It was bigger than wanton
slaughter, beyond evil, beyond believing. Everything I’d read or seen
in newsreels about the Nazis made me angry. This made me sick.

“We know the Nazis have treated the Jews terribly,” Philby said.
“As they have many others. We know many die in the camps in the
east, but extermination? Surely they use them for labor, and many
die, but you can’t mean wholesale slaughter?” Philby’s normally suave
demeanor faltered for a moment as he took in what Diana was

“The Technical Disinfection Department also provides a gas
called Zyklon B. It is used in gas chambers, in large quantities,” Diana
said, her lips compressed, as if the words were too terrible to let loose
into the world. “Kurt Gerstein is in charge of the delivery of Zyklon
B. He delivered large quantities to a number of camps in Poland,
including a huge complex of camps at a place called Auschwitz.”

“Unbelievable,” Philby said, and I couldn’t tell if he simply did
not credit Diana, or was stunned at the enormity of what she was
telling us.

“In 1942, he visited several concentration camps, including
Belzec, in Poland. While he was there, he witnessed the gassing of
three thousand Jews. This was what he had joined the SS for. To
gather evidence of outright extermination. He described what he had
seen to the Swedish diplomat Baron von Otter, and the papal nuncio
in Berlin, Father Cesare Orsenigo, as well as to the bishop. All promised
to send word to London, and each did. When nothing but silence
came of that, Bishop von Preysing wrote directly to the pope.”

“Diana,” Philby said, leaning forward to whisper to her. “Are you
sure this chap isn’t mad? Surely I would have heard of such a report
coming from Berlin. Perhaps he had an attack of conscience and
fabricated the worst he could imagine.”

“You don’t understand,” Diana said. “What do you think is happening
in these camps? Gerstein witnessed it all, the trains coming
in, the few able-bodied separated to be worked to death, all the rest
ushered into the gas chambers. They have them marked as showers,
to disinfect for typhus. Jewish trustees tell them to fold their clothes
and leave them on benches, to remember where they left them. Then
they enter the chamber and the doors are locked behind them. The
Zyklon B is dropped through vents in the ceiling. In twenty minutes
they open the doors and pull out the dead. They pry the gold from
their teeth and incinerate the bodies.”

“The very Zyklon B that Herr Gerstein so thoughtfully provided?”

“Yes. So that he could witness what was being done. So he could
tell the world. But so far, the world hasn’t listened.” She slammed
the table with the flat of her hand and her glass fell, staining the
tablecloth with wine before it rolled off the table and shattered.

Philby sat in silence, haunted perhaps by visions of mass killing,
or worried that he hadn’t been privy to reports smuggled out of Nazi
Germany. Finally he stirred enough to chastise Diana about overreacting
to Vatican gossip and to tell me to keep quiet about what
I’d heard, and then left the table.

“What do you think, Billy?” Diana said, now that we were alone.
I knew Diana was counting on me to believe her, to back her up. I
squirmed in my seat, trying to find the words she wanted to hear,
but I didn’t know what to say. It was all so insane, it was hard to
come up with a logical thought. Then I remembered Sammy.

“I had a friend in high school, Sammy Vartanian. He was
Armenian, and his father used to curse the Turks for killing over a
million Armenians in 1915. I’d never heard of it, and I figured maybe
Sammy’s old man was off his rocker. So I looked it up in the encyclopedia.
Sure enough, there is was. The Armenian Genocide. I
figure if something like that happened a few decades ago, and I never
heard of it, then you could be right. Besides, I believe in you.”

“I’d heard talk among Jews we have hidden in Vatican City, but
I thought it might be nothing more than rumors. Not the deportations
and shootings, all that is well known. It’s the sheer scale of it
all. Like a giant assembly line of death.”

“But you believe this report from Gerstein?”

“Yes. It all checks out. Bishop von Preysing vouches for him, and
he’s completely reliable. He’s been anti-Nazi and quite outspoken
about it, unlike most other German bishops. And thank you.”

“For what?”

“For believing in me.” Diana reached her hand toward mine, and
her skin held an electrical charge. I pulled away, looking around to see
if anyone had seen this Irish civilian hold hands with a nun. Diana
blushed, the red flush stark against the white surrounding her face.

“Let’s go,” she said, and I followed her up the stairs, aware of the
movement in her hips beneath the black cloth. My heart was beating
fast, and I wondered if I should feel guilty about desiring her so soon
after discussing the fate of millions. Then I wondered if I was going
to hell for lusting after a nun, even a phony one. That made my heart
beat even faster, but I didn’t have time to decide which to worry
about, since we were in front of Diana’s door. Guilt and hell were
pretty much the same thing in my upbringing, and I knew I could
never explain this situation to a priest and ask for absolution.

“Listen,” I said, as she turned the key in the lock. “I’ll understand
if you want to be alone, you know, after your long trip and all.”
Diana eyed me, then the hallway. It was empty. The only sounds
were those drifting up from the restaurant two floors below. She
pressed her body against mine, her face warm, her eyes half closed,
her lips moist as we kissed. Our arms encircled each other, and I
tasted the sweetness of her mouth and the saltiness of the tears that
streaked her cheek. I reached for the unlocked door, pushed it open,
and we entered like two dancers in tune with the music of longing.
I kicked it shut as Diana pulled the white coif from her head, letting
her long hair loose. She carefully removed the cross she wore around
her neck and the rosary beads from her woolen belt, placing them
on a small table by the gable window. Then she removed her scapular—
the black apron draped over her shoulders—and covered them
with it.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, kicking off her shoes and wiping a
tear away.

“Is that why you’re crying?” I asked, taking her in my arms,
feeling warm flesh beneath the nun’s habit and trying not to think
about all the real nuns I’d known. This was not the time for visions
of Sister Mary Margaret.

“I don’t know. It’s everything. The war, the innocent deaths, all
the lives ripped apart. It’s too much to bear. I don’t want to think
about it anymore, at least not now.”

We struggled out of our clothes, not wanting to separate for a
second, eager to release our bodies from the confines of belts and
buttons. I laughed when Diana pulled off her tunic, half expecting
all the saints in Switzerland to barge through the door.

“What’s the matter, haven’t you ever seen a nun undress before?”

I laughed some more and Diana giggled as the pile of clothes
by the side of the bed grew, layers of her undergarments mixing with
my civvies, until we were under the duvet, basking in the warmth of
our flesh on a cold winter night, safe from the murderous conflict
that threatened from all points of the compass. The world had
shrunk down to the two of us in this room. The war had burned
away all the petty arguments, all the ill will that we’d let come
between us. There were no questions about tomorrow or the next
day, no expectations of the future, no wondering what would become
of us. Fear, blood, and death had washed us clean, leaving only what
survived, or what had burrowed deep into our hearts, as far from the
danger as it could go and still be remembered. We caressed each
other, coaxing those memories out, letting them breathe the air of
joy and freedom before we put them away again.

We laughed, but I can’t say we were happy. We made love, but it
was desperate and burning hot, as if we were keeping evil at bay by
the very act. We cried, but our woes were so small that I was ashamed
of the tears. We held each other, and knew it would not last.

We slept, but could not rest.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Interviews & Essays

An essay from the author

A MORTAL TERROR came about because I wanted to write a story set within the confines of a contained battlefield. The Anzio Beachhead was the perfect setting, both in terms of the timeline of Billy Boyle's world, and the restrictive nature of that Italian terrain. As I went through the research process, references to combat fatigue kept coming up. The units that spearheaded that invasion were not fresh, well-rested troops. They were G.I.s who had fought in North Africa, and up the peninsula of Italy. They were exhausted veterans supplemented with inexperienced replacements, and I was surprised at how much of what was learned in earlier wars was forgotten.

We call it Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome today. It was Combat Fatigue in World War II, Shell Shock in World War I. Back in the Civil War, they called it Soldier's Heart. I'm sure Roman legionnaires had a name for it too. But in 1944, there wasn't even unanimous agreement that such a thing existed. U.S. Infantry divisions in Italy did not have a single psychiatrist as part of their medical detachment.

I came across a post-war study on the effects of prolonged exposure to combat violence. A U.S. Army doctor stated that the question was not, 'Why did they break?', but 'Why did they continue to endure?' The study calculated that if left in combat for prolonged periods, 98% of soldiers would suffer from symptoms of combat fatigue. The remaining 2% would be sociopaths. They were the only ones immune from Combat Fatigue. No emotions and the lack of human empathy would protect them.

That gave me the idea for the plot. A sociopathic killer, on the loose, in the midst of battle. This requires the murderer not only to hide evidence of his crimes, but to disguise his true nature. As soldiers all around him are ground down by prolonged combat, he has to take care to not appear callous or indifferent to their suffering.

The plot took off from that premise. But as I wrote, the parallels between lessons learned and unlearned by the government and military about Combat Fatigue in all its incarnations became painfully current.

Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq face many challenges, among them injuries from roadside bombs. In addition to grievous physical injuries, proximity to such explosions also inflicts invisible injuries. Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) or concussion is what happens to the brain when exposed to the force of an explosion. It is estimated that between 150,000-400,000 cases of MTBI have occurred in those two countries over the course of the wars. Of those, 5-15% suffer serious long term effects.

While the military has paid attention to treatment for PTSD and provides programs for returning veterans, it has been slow to acknowledge the reality of MTBI and what it means for those who suffer the effects. Once again, as it was in previous generations, the lack of a visible wound makes it hard for some in the military bureaucracy to accept the need for treatment. At Fort Bliss, Texas, a planned center for treatment of MTBI has not even opened its doors. It stands empty as senior officers argue about the treatment and definition of MTBI and the lower ranks suffer.

Soldiers have a name for those who suffer from severe effects of MTBI. With a healthy dose of gallows humor, they call them Walkie-Talkies. They can walk and they can talk, but otherwise they're useless.

Aren't we better than that? Don't they deserve more?

—Jim Benn

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 20, 2011

    War is Hell but so is Murder

    Benn captures your attentions and embroils you in a mind wrenching murder wrapped in a historically accurate war setting. The combat scenes are so realistic you'll be looking for your helmet and a foxhole. Boyle has to fight the brass,non-coms,Germans and Italians while trying to prevent a straight flush of dead officers. I dare you to try and solve this mystery even with all the clues. Five stars.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2012


    To the sick poster on nov 5. You have been reported to bn and i hope they ban you. This is perverted and you shoukd be ashamed.

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2012

    Keeps you wanting more. Excellent!

    Another cliff hanger as Billy grows up under combat while solving another crime. Like every good melodrama, there will have to be another installment.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2011

    Good Read

    The story was good, highly entertaining and suspenseful. Always glad to hear what Billy is up to and remember the sacrifices the men and women made for our country. Can't wait for the next one!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Mortal Terror

    Well done WW II tale. Fast paced, a well hidden villan. A real fine read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    A Mortal Terror

    As if the Germans aren't enemy enough, Billy Boyle is sent to Italy to investigate two murders of American soldiers, that soon multiply into serial style killings. In an area dotted with farms that still support Mussolini, Boyle has to watch his step around men who have been in battle too long. The arrival of Boyle's little brother Danny with replacement troops had me holding my breath, as Benn has shown he has no qualms about using characters as he sees fit. This sixth Boyle story was one of the good ones. I enjoyed the details about the area, the help Billy receives in the form of his old friend Kaz, and another foray into a part of WWII I didn't know much about. I sure hope Benn doesn't run out of war before he runs out of Billy Boyle stories.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2012

    Best book yet

    Best one in the series to date. If your thinking of getting this book or any other of the Billy Boyle books, get them you will not be disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    War is Hell

    The Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries follow the progress of that conflict in this, the sixth installment, albeit it with a different twist. It brings Billy his first murder case, either as a Boston detective (in his previous civilian life) or as “uncle” Ike’s special investigator. But the horrors of the war in Italy, and especially the Anzio beachhead invasion, provide the backdrop for the tale.

    When two officers are found murdered with clues left behind, one a ten of hearts on the body of a lieutenant and a jack of hearts on that of a Captain, the signs of a possible serial killer bent on revenge against the brass emerge, causing concern back at Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters. So Billy is recalled from a three-day pass during which he met with his girlfriend in Switzerland and sent to Naples to begin an investigation into the crimes. Then he has to face the fact that his younger brother is arriving as a replacement in the very platoon in which he suspects the killer is a member.

    The author, a librarian, writes with accuracy of the difficulties and what would today be called PTSD endured by the GIs, as well as the physical hardships and psychological manifestations of infantry warfare. His plotting is taut, descriptions graphic. All in all, the series just keeps on getting better and better. And the Second Front hasn’t yet been opened. The series has a long way to go, and that’s a good thing.

    Highly recommended.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    Five stars

    Five stars

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Haven't finished it

    Got through Part One (38 pages) and put it aside. Just couldn't get interested.

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  • Posted November 30, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    Not only was this a great mystery but also a lesson in history. This was the first one I read of this series and I am going back to the first one and read the whole series.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    Marceline and star

    (Ok see ya)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012


    I have to go

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    Posted October 11, 2011

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    Posted September 14, 2012

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    Posted October 27, 2011

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    Posted December 19, 2012

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    Posted February 2, 2012

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    Posted April 24, 2012

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