Simon Mawer writes clever and literate novels. I've read nearly all of them, including Mendel's Dwarf and The Glass Room.
The U.S. edition of his latest novel is titled Trapeze, though it was released previously in England with a more apt title, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. Before the novel begins, we read this:
The French Section of the Special Operations Executive sent thirty—nine women into the field between May 1941 and September 1944. Of these, twelve were murdered following their capture by the Germans while one other died of meningitis during her mission. The remainder survived the war. Some of these women became well known to the public through films and books that were written about them. Others remained, and remain, obscure. They were all remarkable.
Trapeze is the fictionalized story of one of these remarkable women.
The suspense in the novel builds page by page as the heroine, undercover in France, has to change her name several times, and the enemy is closing in. Toward the end, I was so drawn into the story that I felt a flutter of anxiety that the third—person narration was giving away secrets that could spell the doom of our protagonist if the book fell into enemy hands. A story that well—told can affect the mind a little, just like the real thing.
Mawer's tale makes you ponder what it takes to do undercover work. It almost seems as though anti—social types who lie manipulatively and with ease would be best suited for the task. But that mustn't have been the case with these women. And yet patriotism or duty wouldn't be enough to make someone excel at keeping secrets. You couldn't be your whole real self with anyone. Certainly not with your family.
For me, Mawer was not quite as convincing with the narrative device of having the heroic female spy struggle with her ambivalent feelings about two men. Too much weight was placed on a childhood fantasy romance that we didn't see developing, and the other lacked intimacy. It's understandable, however, that being able to be "real" with someone would be very seductive to a spy. And the romantic aspects helped build tension.
All in all, this is a thriller for those who love the genre, as well as for those who rarely if ever read them.
Mawer, who lives in Italy with his family, wrote on his site: "I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps." It's that hedging and thoughtful "perhaps" that intrigues this reader.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Susan K. Perry