Saturday, November 7, 2015

The White Ghost by James R. Benn

First sentence: I turned away from the hot wind gusting against my face, gave up watching for incoming aircraft, and went inside.

Lieutenant Billy Boyle, along with this friend and colleague Lieutenant Piotr Augustus Kazimierz; aka Kaz, has been sent to the South Pacific island of Tuligai where a native coast watcher—those who track the movements of the Japanese—has been murdered. The suspect is one Lieutenant Jack Kennedy whose PT boat was just sunk. Is Kennedy a hero, or is he a murderer?

This is a case where the prologue works, even if one has not read the books which include the events referenced by the characters, which would be a shame. The prologue creates a sense of being let in on something secret. Who isn’t intrigued by that?

Within the first several pages, Benn introduces us to several of the primary characters, provides their background, establishes the relationships between them and hits s with a major surprise. That is good writing.

It is remarkable what one learns when one reads Benn, such as the connection between the manufacture of soap, which contains glycerin, and the manufacture of nitroglycerine for explosives. It’s a tough line between the information being necessary for the reader to fully understand the events, yet there are times when the depth of information overshadows the plot.

Benn incorporates actual people into the story; in this instance as a primary character of the story, blending facts seamlessly with fiction. The depth of research is apparent but, again, not intrusive or presented in a way meant to impress the reader with the author’s knowledge. It is all done to provide veracity and richness to the story. The diverse nationalities of the characters is definitely adds to the story, as well.

The vernacular of the natives comes through; however, the dialogue for Kennedy doesn’t always quite ring quite true. One might question, with the period and Kennedy’s background, whether he would use a phrase such as “…it was no big deal.” But one could be wrong. It is a very interesting look at John F. Kennedy. On one hand he appears as an arrogant, entitled, womanizer--which he was—while that is balanced by acknowledging that is was a product of the expectations and pressures of his family. In the end, he is a more appealing character than he first appeared and one can’t help but wonder who’d he have been had he not been a Kennedy.

The White Ghost” has plenty of tension, suspense, appropriate violence and an extremely well-done ending.

THE WHITE GHOST (Hist Mys-Lt. Billy Boyle-South Pacific- 1943/WWII) – VG
Benn, James R. – 10th in series
Soho Crime – Sept 2015

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