The Secret Messenger

Written by Mandy Robotham
Review by Jasmina Svenne

Venice, 1943: Stella Jilani is leading a double life, working as a typist in the Reich Office, but smuggling out information for the Italian Resistance and using her old typewriter to produce an underground newspaper. Her life becomes even more complicated when she crosses paths with two very different men – the cultured, enigmatic Cristian De Luca, her immediate superior at work, and friendly Jack (Giovanni), an injured British-Italian parachutist, who needs her help.

London 2017: grieving after the death of her distant mother, Luisa Belmont stumbles on an old typewriter and a box of mementoes belonging to her grandmother Stella. Determined to connect with her Venetian heritage, Luisa begins an obsessive quest, even at the risk of her relationship with her actor husband Jamie.

The most effective part of Robotham’s second novel is the build-up of tension, particularly in the second half of the book. Since we are introduced to Stella’s family – her frail mother, stoical father and reckless younger brother Vito – it’s easy to see what’s at stake if Stella is caught out. The only bit I never quite believed was the “betrayal” that the blurb makes so much of.

Luisa’s subplot is far less effective. In fact, I question whether the book wouldn’t be more powerful without it, since her character is less well-developed; her investigations rarely uncover anything the reader doesn’t already know; and Luisa’s difficult relationship with her mother Sofia turns out to be unrelated to the main plot. There are one or two odd word choices – e.g. “resolve” for “resolution” – and the phrase “in my midst” appears twice when she really means “in my wake” or “in my presence”.

Cristian De Luca lacks the brooding sexiness of Richwalder in Pam Jenoff’s The Kommandant’s Girl, but this book should appeal to fans of that novel.