Author: William Boyd
Bloomsbury Paperbacks RRP $19.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
More than three decades later, Ruth Gilmartin visits her mother, Sally to be given a notebook and hear some startling words: “I am Eva Delectorskaya”. Upon reading the notebook Ruth discovers that everything she knew about her mother was a carefully constructed lie. For years her mother has lived as a respectable English widow and mother in the Cotswolds, concealing her real identity as a former spy. However, of late Sally/Eva has become convinced her life is in danger (a suggestion Ruth laughs off at first); her spy instincts are on alert and she prepares to complete one final mission – find Lucas Romer. To do that, she needs Ruth’s help.
Meanwhile, Ruth is trying to make something of her own life. She has a young son to support, an unfinished graduate degree, and earns her living teaching foreign students English. Her son’s father’s brother has turned up needing a place to stay and one of her students has announced he’s in love with her. Isn’t that enough to deal with? But as she is drawn deeper into the events of her mother’s past, she can’t ignore her mother’s call for help.
The story skilfully weaves two detailed and complex stories, linking past and present to create an intriguing and intelligent drama. It’s a fast-paced read that drew me in slowly, matching Ruth’s gradual acceptance that her mother was (finally) telling the truth about the past; I imagine that Ruth reached a point where she couldn’t put her mother’s notebook down – that’s how I felt once the story had me in its grip. Through Eva’ story, Boyd builds his narrative to an atmosphere of carefully-masked urgency that’s needed for any successful thriller. Is it edge-of-the-seat? No, it has a restrained, subtle tension that’s in perfect harmony with the events depicted. Of the two narratives, I found Eva’s more compelling; while there were parallels with Ruth’s story and Eva’s, I didn’t feel that Ruth’s story was as strong or dramatic (nor did I feel that her five-year-old son sounded anything like a five-year-old). Likewise with the two characters – I was more interested in Eva’s experiences as a female spy than Ruth’s present-day life.