Bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is back with his latest instalment. But what do you think? Does it live up to its predecessor?
Marian Sutro has survived Ravensbruck and is back in dreary 1950s London trying to pick up the pieces of her pre-war life. Returned to an England she barely knows and a post-war world she doesn't understand Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. Family and friends surround her and a young RAF officer attempts to bring her the normalities of love and affection but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the development of the Atom Bomb. Where, in the complexities of peacetime, does her loyalty lie? When a mysterious Russian diplomat emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War she sees a way to make amends for the past and to renew the excitement of her double life.
(Little, Brown, £16.99)
Simon Mawer’s last book The Girl Who Fell from the Sky marked a serious change of direction: from the literary novels that established his reputation to a more conventional thriller about a woman dropped into wartime France. That same woman, Marian Sutro, returns in Tightrope—and so does Mawer’s full commitment to respecting the thriller conventions.
The new book begins in 1945 with Marion back in Britain after a spell in Ravensbrück concentration camp. Not surprisingly, she finds ordinary life a struggle and can’t shake off the feeling that her existence is another cover story. So when she’s asked by her ex-handler to dust off her spying skills for the Cold War, her reaction is almost one of relief.
If nobody had written a Cold-War thriller before, what follows might seem like a startling masterpiece, full of narrative twists, moral ambiguity and an all-pervading atmosphere of mistrust. But any fan of spy fiction will have come across these elements many times. Mawer arranges them deftly enough, and Marian herself is a compelling heroine. Even so, this is a curious mix: on the one hand, a smart and often gripping novel; on the other, a book whose sense of familiarity never quite goes away.