296 pages. Acknowledgements, author biographical note.
It's France, 1935. Tom Nash looks forward to a quiet life in his coastal home, doing a bit of writing, leaving forever behind his secretive career in British service.
Until someone tries to kill him.
Tom must now reconsider his past, to unravel the mystery of who would want him dead – complicated by the fact that old friends might be enemies now, and even those so close as to be almost family might have secrets to hide.
First of all, this is a book which is a joy to read. They call Mark Mills a "master stylist" and he definitely a step beyond just a "writer."
Secondly, he writes about 1930s Europe in such a way as to charm the reader with his authenticity – he gets all the details right, and he knows just what to explain to help the modern reader.
He teases the plot out step by step, leaving the reader hungry to know more about Tom Nash's past, what has left him so scarred, what from his past might be stalking him now. He also shows us how Tom is a tragic figure, successful in his career but damaged in his soul, anchored by the few close friends he must now suspect. There is enough action to keep the reader entertained while the plot moves onward. There is even a romantic angle.
Obviously, I loved this novel and highly recommend it. Does it have weaknesses? The novel has quite a number of characters, and I had some trouble keeping track of all of them. Distinguishing details are sometimes revealed too late to be useful. It was difficult to fully accept the protagonist's situation as 'tragic recovering spy' when the author kept his past undisclosed for so much of the novel.
The level of violence seemed appropriate for the genre. I don't remember any foul language. While the plot is certainly involved with who-has-slept-with-whom, sex itself is left 'off the page' (as appropriate for the period). There is one odd scene where the author describes a young woman examining herself in the mirror – it seemed out of place.
Could you game it? The finale would certainly work on the tabletop, but most of the earlier action is one-on-one so you would probably want to 'upscale' to involve more figures.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Recommended for anyone who likes espionage tales in the last few years before WWII.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .