If you were born after 1945, but still think the Second World War is the most significant event of your lifetime given the profundity of its aftershocks even today, then you have arrived at the book for you.
Those aftershocks also shook Manda Scott’s A Treachery of Spies into existence. She claimed in an interview that she was not yet ten when she read of a Resistance operative who had jumped from a window – and died – to escape from a punishment eye-gouging.
The image left her with nightmares.
Many years later she returned to the book and read of the Resistance’s own punishment squad, les equipes des tueurs, secretive bands of trained assassins who left their own mark on collaborators – they would slash their throats and de-tongue them.
A Treachery of Spies starts with the discovery of the body of a striking elderly lady bearing the murder signature of les equipes in a car parked outside Orleans rail station.
A professional arrangement of bullet holes also hints at a high level of sophistication with weaponry on the part of the killer.
Who could this woman be, and why such an out-of-date message?
The name on her papers is Sophie Destivelle, but even this seems to be possibly some sort of cover or diversion.
And who would carry out such an atrocity on a glamorous old dear? She’s 92, for heaven’s sake!
Fortunately the French police have Capitaine Inés Picault available for detective duties. Just back on the squad after recovering from the damage caused to her face by a fire in her last literary outing (Into the Fire), this tangle of clues is only going to be straightened out by a supercomputer of a brain as powerful and subtle as Capitaine Picault’s.
While she’s sending the weapons to ballistics and working out who the car belongs to, the action swerves back to the war’s mid-period, when the Normandy landings were being readied in secret, but the Maquis – the Resistance of the countryside – were a constant reminder to the Germans that not everyone was accepting of their moving in.
The British and Americans provided support in the form of weapons and personnel, but there was always one issue that no quantity of parachuted sten guns could resolve – who could be trusted and who was playing both sides?
With the Nazis not in the mood for chasing around the mountainside and always ready to deter resistance with a spot of sadistic torture, it was no wonder the Maquis’ reprisals were themselves so vicious.
And so this book’s fabulous complexity evolves – a modern day police mystery, a historical drama of international dimension, and a reader left trying to work out how it all fits together.
It’s impossible to penetrate further into the murky cast of Maquis, CIA, SOE, Nazis and French people with very long memories without revealing too much and spoiling the pleasure.
But given that this is a book of ingenious intricacy, superbly researched and magnificently assembled, spoiling it for yourself will be an exquisite pleasure of its own.
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