City of Spies

Written by Mara Timon
Review by Lorelei Brush

This debut novel opens in Paris in June of 1943 when we meet Elisabeth de Mornay, an Englishwoman employed by the Special Operations Executive as a spy. Her Resistance group has been compromised; she cannot return to her lodgings, so she exits Paris on a bicycle to find other fighters up north. But her contact in Rouen has been compromised as well, and she must kill two German soldiers to escape and continue her search. Through a host of harrowing moments, she makes her way to Lisbon which, at this point in the war, is a city full of spies. She assumes a new name and identity as an elegant Parisian woman to probe this spy network and answer problematic questions for her handlers.

Every page of this book is filled with tension. On page 1, Elisabeth is in a small restaurant and sees a compatriot with his right hand deep in his pocket, signaling that he’s been compromised. From that page on, this young, pretty woman is challenged at every turn. The tension continues on a trajectory upward, as the reader wonders how she is going to make her way out of her current conundrum. The writing is crisp and descriptive, aiding in that rising suspense. The characters are well drawn, and we readers are on her side through each adventure. My only issue with the novel is the author’s choice to begin in Paris and switch to Lisbon when the latter story would have made a complete novel on its own. I couldn’t see points made in the Paris section as critical to the rest of the story—unless she is planning a prequel or a sequel in Paris.