I almost missed this book. I had cleared my shelf on NetGalley and was going to take a short break in the run up to Christmas. Fortunately I learned of it in an email from NetGalley and was intrigued so I requested it. I’m so glad I read it. I really enjoyed it.
by Helen Dunmore is a book full of secrets, deception, concealment, hidden emotions. It’s a spy thriller with a difference. While there isn’t a lot of physical violence in this book, there is a threat of it just lurking below the surface.
The story is set in London in 1960 at the height of the Cold War. Simon Callington works at the Admiralty and is not particularly ambitious. His wife Lily works part time as a teacher and looks after their three children. Both have ‘hidden’ pasts that are not talked about.
Lily arrived in England fleeing Nazi Germany with her Jewish mother in 1937. Her mother insisted that they speak only English at home and work hard to fit in. You get the feeling that Lily likes her quiet ordinary life but you you get a feeling that she has a degree of anxiety about being ‘found out’.
When Simon was at Cambridge, before he met and married Lily, he had a relationship with Giles Holloway who had also been instrumental in getting him employment at the Admiralty. Giles is considered a bit unreliable as he drinks too much and is less discreet about his liaisons than perhaps he should be in a time when homosexual sex was a criminal offence and usually resulted in a jail sentence.
The Callingtons’ rather mundane life is completely turned on its head and becomes a nightmare when Simon takes a call from Giles who has had an accident and is in hospital. Giles asks him to go to his flat and retrieve a file, which should not have been removed from the office, from a hidden room and get it back to the Admiralty without anyone finding out.
Needless to say, it doesn’t happen the way Giles would want it to happen and the file is not returned immediately. The file disappears from Simon’s house and shortly thereafter the Police arrive, Simon is accused of passing information to the Soviets and is taken away for questioning. The house is searched, someone arrives in a black car – not a policeman – and begins to interrogate Lily, revealing that they know things about her and where she has been. Her whole life is turned upside down.
Lily turns out to be a very strong character when she needs to be and not the quiet, wife and mother who tends to keep her past to herself. She is very practical and does what has to be done to keep her family safe, even when she is terrified inside.
I love the way Helen Dunmore tells the story and seamlessly reveals things from both Simon and Lily’s past. You get a very good sense of time and place. An almost unexpected ending too.
Great storytelling and a very good read.
Publication date: 28 January 2016
Author’s website: www.helendunmore.com