The Spies of Shilling Lane

Written by Jennifer Ryan
Review by Valerie Adolph

Mrs. Braithwaite starts for London in 1941, leaving Ashcombe, her home village, behind her. She manages to convince herself that this unusual trip to London in wartime is an overdue visit to her daughter, Betty. In fact, Mrs Braithwaite has been shamed in the village, demoted from what she considers her rightful position as head of the local Women’s Voluntary Services group.

This shame comes from the villagers’ view of her husband divorcing her to marry another woman. This failed relationship behind her, she hopes to reconnect with her adult daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in the two years since Betty left home. But Mrs. Braithwaite finds that not only is Betty missing from her rented room in London, but she is unknown at the company she supposedly was working for.

From this point on Mrs. Braithwaite searches for Betty through a world full of spies, counterspies, Fascists and just plain thugs, punctuated by Luftwaffe bombing raids. She is assisted by Betty’s landlord, the timid and fearful Mr. Norris, who manfully faces more danger than he had ever imagined.

This is a light-hearted look at a determined countrywoman taking on the wartime world of espionage and counter espionage, aided by the pathetically faint-hearted accountant. The only reality that intrudes is the Blitz and its toll in dead and injured people.

This novel comes nowhere close to the level of the author’s previous book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. The characters of Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris are amusing and well-drawn but not in tune with the plot. Their adventures seem contrived, and the bad guys are stereotypes. The moral of the story – the importance of loving others – is a clearly explained and thoroughly reinforced theme. That said, it was refreshing to read a novel with mature and not particularly attractive main characters.