Ruth is a young single mother in mid-1970s Oxford, teaching English to foreign students and executives while avoiding working on her thesis; her mother lives in a small town not far away. Her life has a rhythm: of new students arriving, students-turned-friends leaving, visiting her emotionally-distant mother, not thinking about her son’s father… until one day her world is upended with her mother’s declaration that someone is trying to kill her. Why, Ruth asks, only to be told that her mother, Sally Gilmartin, is really Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian recruited by the British Secret Service at the beginning of World War II. The story of Eva’s life as a spy unfolds in parallel with Ruth’s discoveries about her own “real” self, and both are riveting. Eva’s final assignment, nearly forty years after the war, requires her to recruit Ruth for assistance.
Prizewinning author Boyd (Any Human Heart) bases this novel on some little-known facts about British spy involvement in the United States during World War II; his story of British manipulation of the world press in order to coerce America into the fight is fascinating, with memorable characters and evocative scenes. Eva comes to life as an unwitting pawn in a worldwide game of life and death, and Boyd’s expert weaving of her life and Ruth’s earns extra kudos. Knowing that the historical setting is based on reality makes it all the more worthwhile. This is one of those books you won’t be able to put down, and at the same time you won’t want it to end. Highly recommended!