About the Book
To love, honour, and betray…
1936: Devastated by the death of her beloved brother Hugh, Emma seeks to keep his memory alive by wholeheartedly embracing his dreams of a communist revolution. But when she marries an ambitious diplomat, she must leave her ideals behind and live within the confines of embassy life in Paris and Nazi Berlin. Then one of Hugh’s old comrades reappears, asking her to report on her philandering husband, and her loyalties are torn.
1979: Emma’s grandson, Phil, dreams of a gap-year tour of Cold War Europe, but is nowhere near being able to fund it. So when his beloved grandmother determines to make one last trip to the places she lived as a young diplomatic wife, and to try to solve a mystery that has haunted her since the war, he jumps at the chance to accompany her.
But their journey takes them to darker, more dangerous places than either of them could ever have imagined…
Format: Paperback (368 pages) Publisher: Corvus
Publication date: 4th February 2021 Genre: Mystery
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Phil’s plan to spend the summer of 1979 hitchhiking across Europe with a pal, chatting up girls turns into an incident-filled adventure with his grandmother, Emma. It’s certainly a little more eventful than her description of it as ‘a little trip around Europe to revisit old times’ would suggest. But then Emma is not your conventional grandmother. For the wife of a former diplomat, she’s delightfully un-diplomatic when it comes to expressing her opinions and speaking her mind. As Phil reflects later, “He imagined her as a young diplomat’s wife confounding all who met her, diplomats and spymasters, throughout Europe”.
I enjoyed the dual time structure, switching between 1979 and the 1930s, with Emma gradually revealing to Phil her experiences in Paris and Berlin. I particularly liked the sections in which the reader experiences through Emma’s eye the atmosphere of pre-war Paris – the diplomatic parties, the Embassy politics, rubbing shoulders with artistic and literary luminaries such as Marc Chagall, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. I also found it fascinating to see the contrast Emma observes between pre-war and post-war Germany, now separated by the Berlin Wall.
For someone supposedly familiar with the novels of John le Carré some of Phil’s actions seemed a little naive, allowing himself to fall into traps that seemed fairly obvious to me. However, at other times, he proved himself quick-witted and resourceful. His steadfast devotion to his grandmother made theirs a touching partnership, even if it emerges she’s not been entirely truthful about her past – or her present, come to that.
For fans of spy thrillers, there are all the features you would expect: coded messages, emergency contact procedures and counter-surveillance measures. And for readers who like a bit of action, there are also some moments of melodrama. The currency of espionage is betrayal, lies, and more lies and there’s plenty of that here. I certainly felt some sympathy for Phil as he wonders just what to believe and who to trust. I confess I was rather more interested in Phil’s and Emma’s journey into her past than I was with the covert mission Phil finds himself entrusted with which definitely ventures into John le Carré territory, recalling the reveal at the end of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
A search for answers, a quest for justice and a story of love, loss and betrayal, The Diplomat’s Wife combines an eventful road trip across Cold War era Europe with all the ingredients of a wartime espionage thriller.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Corvus and Readers First.
In three words: Intriguing, dramatic, suspenseful
Try something similar: City of Spies by Mara Timon
About the Author
Before becoming a writer, Michael Ridpath used to work as a bond trader in the City of London. After writing several financial thrillers, which were published in over 30 languages, he began a crime series featuring the Icelandic detective Magnus Jonson. He has also written five stand-alone thrillers, the latest of which is The Diplomat’s Wife. He lives in London. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)