DEATH'S DOOR


By James Benn

Soho, 2012 ($25.00)

ISBN-13: 978-1-61695-185-6

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Lieutenant Billy Boyle is in Italy, pointedly ignoring orders from his boss to return to London at once. He's not AWOL, he tells himself, he's just trying to get a little more time to find out what's happened to the woman he loves. Diana Seaton has been working undercover in the Vatican as a nun, and rumor has it she's been taken to the Regina Coeli prison. Few who are imprisoned there ever see the light of day again, but Diana has survived some terrible ordeals and Billy won't give up hope she'll make it out of this one.

His procrastination pays off. Instead of facing court martial, he's given a ticket to Rome to solve the murder of a American monsignor in the Vatican. He and Kaz — Lieutenant (and Baron) Kazimierz, are soon on a harrowing journey to the Holy City, disguised as priests. Along the way, they have some close encounters with the enemy and with friendly fire, and their journey almost ends before it begins.

Even within the sanctified realm of the Vatican, safety is not assured. Some of the supposedly godly men Billy and Kaz encounter have their own agendas and their own viewpoints about the validity of the mission. One misstep, one wrong word, and the guys could find themselves under arrest, dead, or, worse, in the hands of the Nazis. Those who know about Diana warn him again not to try to free her, but the four horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn't stop Billy from trying, even if he's doomed to fail.

Kaz, whose heart was broken when his true love was killed, gets another chance at happiness, and he's willing to help Billy in his quest. A sympathetic priest and an American airman with lock-picking skills lend a hand. The course of true love never does run smooth, but a man's got to try. The original mission, to solve the monsignor's murder, gets more and more tangled, and more people will die before all is said and done.

Benn gives the reader a fascinating glimpse behind the Vatican walls during World War II. Heroes risked their lives to save Jews, POWs, and other enemies of the Nazis from death, while trying to maintain the neutrality of the Holy City. Not all of those heroes were on the Allied side, and some who were, were not heroes. War makes strange bedfellows.

This is the 7th in the Billy Boyle series. Each book has been better than the last, and this is the best yet. As in previous books, Benn makes good use of historic characters to round out the story. In the vastness of the war, Billy and his companions bring to life the smaller, more personal victories and defeats, and show how such times bring out the best and the worst in people on either side.

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