Over forty years many of the books I have enjoyed were ‘very good’, some ‘excellent’, and just one was ‘nearly perfect’ (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – you might say that ‘he went on a bit’).
Now I’m excited to share what I consider to be a PERFECT story – Manda Scott’s 2018 ‘A Treachery of Spies’.
The book was recommended to me and it is a pleasure to share that gift with other readers here.
The judgment of perfection is relative, of course. I would categorise this story as an action-thriller with espionage overtones. If that sounds like the kind of story you enjoy I think you will love it.
The story blends two timelines in an inter-connected plot that spans from British-French resistance and espionage in WW2 occupied France, to the modern-day execution of Sophie Destivelle, “… a very old, very elegant lady spy.” Destivelle was a British double-agent during the war. The story turns on her mission to eventually kill Max Krammer, the German officer who turned her into a traitor.
Early in the story, her fear-hate of Krammer is laid bare and we know that she is desperate to kill him. The British need her to get close to Krammer and act as their agent until they give her permission to do that – becoming a British double agent will both wipe the slate clean from her treachery and give her the closure that she needs with Krammer… and so she returns to France.
Scott surrounds Destivelle with an authentic cast of supporting characters and an exciting WW2 storyline. This is one of the story’s greatest strengths – it feels real, like she is giving us true insights into how the Resistance operated in France. Sub-plots around her British handler’s life, espionage and cryptography, deaths in the Blitz, all add colour to a well-drawn tale.
The modern-day murder mystery tracks how Detective Picaut, a French police officer, follows the breadcrumbs from Destivelle’s murder in a car park, through stories of the wartime Resistance, towards links with the CIA and NSA, and a final satisfying showdown that pulls all the strands together.
The other thing which struck me was the technical execution of the writing – it is flawless. I did not notice any typos. The pacing and structure of both action and dialogue were excellent. Descriptions were never intrusive and it was always clear who was involved. It takes years of effort to learn to write in this gold standard style, and Scott has clearly learnt her stuff.
Finally, I must add that the packaging of this story, in the copy I read, was also perfect. The cover design was excellent, the feel of the back cover made the book a pleasure to hold while reading, and the blurb was spot on.
So… what are you waiting for?