Bantam Press | 2018 (9 August) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book
A very old woman, Sophie Destivelle, is found murdered in a car in Orléans. She’s been shot three times in what has all of the hallmarks of a professional assassination. Her tongue is cut out, a terrible reminder of the punishment dealt out to French collaborators during the German occupation of France during the Second World War. Police inspector Capitaine Inés Picaut finds on her person a card belonging to a filmmaker who, it turns out, is currently making a documentary about the local Maquis, the French Resistance. As Picaut searches for the reasons behind why such an old woman, in her 90s, met such a fate, she learns that there have been other deaths. The survivors of the war did not leave the past far enough behind. It’s caught up with them.
A Treachery of Spies is an outstanding novel that deserves all of the superlatives I can throw at it. Manda Scott is the finest of writers, her books always significant and she is able to turn her hand to any historical period, any genre. She has written some of my very favourite novels. Manda Scott manages to engage both the head and the heart of the reader, leaving one in awe of the cleverness of the book’s plotting and structure while feeling every moment of the novel’s tension and drama, often weeping tears for its men and women. These books are also so exciting! A Treachery of Spies is no different.
Into the Fire introduced us to Capitaine Inés Picaut in a superb and memorable novel that combined a murder investigation in the present with the 15th-century life of Joan of Arc. A Treachery of Spies also combines stories from the past and present but this time it’s the period of the German Occupation and its aftermath, years remembered by some of the people in the novel. The result is one of the most powerful and evocative fictional account of the French Resistance that I’ve read. The danger of these years, the absolute peril that these heroic men and women put themselves through every single day, the torture they risked and endured when caught, the psychological stress they lived with, the loss of comrades whom they grieved for – all of this and much, much more is given to us in this tense, compelling and brilliant thriller.
Picaut uncovers a web of lies and secrets that goes back decades – chapters set in the past show us how this web took shape as we follow the members of the local Maquis in their daily fight against the Germans, most notably Kramme, the most despicable of them all. It is absolutely engrossing and even more so because we grow so close to these characters, watching their relationships form and intensify over many, many years. It is astonishing some of the sacrifices that are made for the cause. There are so many details that capture the imagination and add to the novel’s authenticity. I don’t want to give you any details about the story itself and the people you’ll love and hate within these pages – you must discover them for yourselves. But Sophie Destivelle is a character that you really need to meet.
Manda Scott’s skill in bringing to life such complicated relationships and emotions is staggering. It’s a complex book but that’s part of its joy. I ached for these people and I hated the evil. Good and evil battle it out here, the fight that never ends. We witnessed it in Into the Fire and it continues here, although sometimes both can be hidden. It’s like the end of the world to see such heroism and courage slaughtered while we must praise the valour of people like Picaut and others in this novel who live to fight the enemy. A Treachery of Spies is a fantastic spy thriller, it’s also a brilliant crime novel, but there’s so much more to it than that. A contender for novel of the year for sure. How I long for Picaut to return.