In June 1943, wireless operator Billy Angell beats the odds to survive his thirtieth bombing mission for the Royal Air Force, which entitles him to a six-month respite from combat. But there’s no rest for Billy. Spymasters recruit him to parachute into Occupied France, where he’s to pretend to be a deserter and give out disinformation about Allied invasion plans.
Hurley brings Billy’s aerial war, the first part of the narrative, to terrifying life. I wish the novel had stayed there, focusing on Billy’s shame over the firebombing of Hamburg, which gives him a depth the other characters lack. Unfortunately, the espionage story soon takes over, and the novel goes off the rails.
Even readers unschooled in WWII intelligence operations may wonder how Billy drops into France after only a week’s training, a rank amateur spilling a tale that should fool no one. Obstacles occur and threats abound, but a benevolent higher power repeatedly quashes them, so that the good guys seldom have to face trouble for long. As a consequence, these Germans come across as cardboard villains, in the main hardly more brutal than a tetchy schoolmaster with a switch. To sustain this fabrication and prop up a sagging plot, the novel risks trivializing the real intelligence war, the Occupation, and (because there are Jews and death camps involved) the Holocaust.
As a thriller, Aurore pulls too many punches to succeed. And as historical fiction, aside from the RAF chapters, gripping and well told, there’s little here to evoke a plausible, compelling narrative of warring Europe in 1943.