by Simon Mawer
A spy story set in World War Two. Marian Sutro is recruited by SOE, trained and then sent on a mission to France. The first half of the novel deals mainly with her recruitment and training, and the second half relates her mission.
There is plenty of detail about SOE operations, how agents were trained and how they operated. It’s reasonable to assume that Mawer has done his homework and that the details are accurate. For me, there was a bit too much of it, and also too much detail on the nature of the atomic weapons research that two of the main characters (Marian’s brother Ned, and her childhood sweetheart Clément) are working on. It may be that the author felt all this information was necessary to an understanding of the story; but it is somewhat heavy and textbook-like in places.
Detail is not spared in the descriptions of Marian’s sexual activities either. I felt this was also unnecessary, but maybe it serves to show the way an otherwise prim and proper girl might behave when facing real, life-threatening danger. Marian is intelligent, confident (mostly) and evidently attractive. There is a ruthlessness about her too – she becomes hardened to her own fate, and determined to do her job properly.
This book was selected by my book group, and I found it somewhat tedious. Although it was apparent that at least one of the characters would turn out to be a traitor (and it was the one I had guessed), the story was not as fast-paced or gripping as I would expect a good spy story to be. It was hard to picture some of the ‘baddies’ even though they appeared at various points in the book. They don’t come across as menacing and threatening. Perhaps this was the point!