Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

City Of Spies by Mara Timon.

City of Spies by Mara Timon.

Published 17th September 2020 by Zaffre.

LISBON, 1943: When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe's elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies.

There she receives new orders - and a new identity.

Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed.

The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth's resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission.

But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?


I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book - in fact, I don't think I have enjoyed a historical fiction spy story as much this for a very long time.

Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, the reasons are many actually, but mainly because this is written by a very talented writer who brilliantly takes you into the less travelled land of the life of a female SOE operative in World War II; and that this is a story that that plays out against a very unusual backdrop for a tale about this period - the historic and beautiful, Lisbon.

When we first meet Elisabeth de Mornay she is deep undercover in Paris as Nathalie Lafontaine, an Allied radio operator, or pianist as they are more colloquially termed by those in the trade. When her cover is blown, she has to flee across country, relying on her training and wits keep her out of the hands of the Gestapo, and meeting both friends and foe along the way. This is actually quite familiar territory for a tale of wartime espionage, but our author balances just the right amount of danger and suspense with Elisabeth's skills as a operative to make this build up to the main event exciting and surprisingly emotional.

Elisabeth's flight takes her to neutral Portugal, where she finds herself adopting the persona of Solange Verin, a wealthy French emigree, who is given the unenviable task of infiltrating a German spy ring, whilst maintaining her cover in a city that is known to be a hot bed of spies. It is in Lisbon that the majority of this novel is placed and this is what makes the story so very, very good.

I have not read anything about the Lisbon of this period before, so really enjoyed that Mara Timon works the historical facts into her fictional tale about the world that Elisabeth must now become familiar with. This is new and fascinating territory, for both Elisabeth and myself - a city where British and German soldiers and diplomats rub shoulders, ostensibly on neutral ground, among a population of local Portuguese swollen with the presence of refugees from across war torn Europe. Here Elisabeth must carry off her new identity as Solange to perfection in an environment where it is impossible to trust anyone and true loyalty is hidden well.

It is here, in Lisbon and it's environs, that the story really comes alive. We are treated to the very best in the espionage genre, full of as much detail about the nitty-gritty spy stuff to keep any fan of this kind of book happy, as our protagonist is skilled, resourceful, and undertaking dangerous and important work. 

But that is not all: Solange is a wealthy woman and the trappings that come with this new role are not to be sniffed at. It is wonderful to revel in these long forgotten luxuries alongside Elisabeth - the elegant villa, the food, the gowns and jewellery -  and it adds beautifully to the glamour and period feel of the piece.

This is an espionage tale of a different class: a novel that is more the nature of an iron fist that is wrapped seductively in a velvet glove. Elisabeth is a very competent spy, but she is also a woman, and it is the combination of these things that give depth and feeling to the story - love makes a welcome appearance too, but it is love of country that holds sway.

I have spent a fair bit of time in Portugal over the years, and it is a country that I love. It is clear from Mara Timon's descriptions that she has fallen for the charms of Portugal too. I particularly enjoyed the fact that our author has even included an appendix about 'Touring the City of Spies', and cannot wait to visit beautiful Lisbon once again with Mara Timon's guide in hand to soak up the wonderful locations she uses in this book.

This is an accomplished debut from an author who is most definitely one to watch, and I am hoping from the hints at the end of the book that a sequel will be on the the way before long - I will definitely be along for the ride!

City of Spies is available to but from your favourite book retailer from 17th September 2020, in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Thank you to Mara Timon and Zaffre Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and tpo Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Mara Timon is a native New Yorker and self-proclaimed citizen of the world, who began a love affair with London about 20 years ago. She started writing short-stories as a teenager, and when a programme on the BBC caught her interest, she followed the "what-ifs" until a novel began to appear.

Mara lives in London and is working on her next book. She loves reading, writing, running, Pilates, red wine and spending time with friends and family - not necessarily in that order.

No comments:

Post a Comment