The Mistaken Wife

Written by Rose Melikan
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1797 and in the aftermath of the French Revolution, General Bonaparte’s armies are sweeping across Europe. The British government is deeply concerned about Bonaparte’s territorial ambitions, suspecting that invading Britain is next on his agenda. Their secret contacts have brought the unwelcome news that the newly independent USA may be considering an alliance with Revolutionary France.

Meanwhile, the independent-minded Mary Finch embarks on another assignment for the reclusive Government agent, Cuthbert Shy. He wants her to go to France and persuade the American delegation that it is in their interests to remain neutral. It all sounds horribly vague and Mary is well aware that it is also exceedingly dangerous. The Terror has ended, but arbitrary imprisonment and executions have not. Moreover, she must deceive her ‘dearest friend’, Captain Robert Holland, as to her mission – especially the fact that she will be travelling as the wife of an American portrait painter hoping for new clients in Paris. Shy has not told her that Captain Holland will also be in France on an equally dangerous mission to find out about a new invention the Americans are trying to interest the French in – a ‘submarine’; it must be either stolen or sabotaged.

I was gripped by this book from the very first page. Post-Revolutionary Paris comes across as a city teetering on the edge of paranoia; the secret police are everywhere. But there are also new opportunities. The characters are fully three-dimensional (the villain is particularly creepy because he seems so innocuous at first) and the situations Mary and Holland find themselves in are tense, dramatic and always unexpected. I was on the edge of my seat, desperate to know what would happen next. This is a quality book, told by a master storyteller. Highly recommended.