Many would argue that the mystery is the most challenging form of genre fiction to write and write well. Not only is the author required to employ all the usual craft of writing an entertaining story, interesting plot, passable prose, character development, a riveting sense of place, but also a puzzle for the reader, and a puzzle in which, as Raymond Chandler put it, “The solution, once revealed, must seem to have been inevitable.” It helps, too, if the author can work into the story topics that are pertinent socially. Hammett did it by centering his stories on the corruption of small and large town politics. The modern master Walter Mosley does it by drawing scenes that depict the disadvantages that minorities face in daily life, and he does it while never seeming to preach.
If the mystery is the most challenging form of genre fiction, then historical fiction must be a close second. In historical fiction the challenge is first an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the era, the characters, and the events of the time the author uses to center his story upon. On first glance it may look easy. But it never is. With historical fiction the writer must assume that the reader is more than a little familiar with the actual history, therefore playing loose with the facts, events and characters is rarely allowed.
James R. Benn has managed to not only write a first rate mystery, but also convey very accurately an era from history. Benn’s Billy Boyle mysteries are always entertaining, filled with riveting characters, and beautifully plotted stories. Boyle and his supporting cast of characters are finely drawn and period correct and his dialog is often humorous. Billy Boyle is a Boston police detective turned Allied intelligence agent during World War II. He is distantly related to General Eisenhower and, as his name would suggest, is an old time Boston Irish cop.
Death's Door (Billy Boyle World War II Mystery) is the seventh mystery in Benn’s historical series (after A Mortal Terror). Boyle and Kaz, his Polish partner who is a count in exile, are ordered to Rome to investigate the death of an American monsignor in the neutral Vatican. The Death’s Door of the title is one of the five entrances to Saint Peter's Basilica. Wild Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, who would go on to found the CIA after the war, has assigned Boyle to the case. The fact that Vatican city sits in Nazi occupied Rome, and that Vatican City is a neutral state is only one obstacle that Boyle and Kaz must overcome.