#BookReview The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Simon Mawer @WFHowes

The Girl Who Fell From The SkyAbout the Book

Marian Sutro is an outsider: the daughter of a diplomat, half French, half British, naive yet too clever for her own good. But when she is recruited from her desk job by SOE to go undercover in wartime France, it seems her hybrid status – and fluent French – will be of service to a greater, more dangerous cause.

Trained in sabotage, dead-drops, how to perform under interrogation and how to kill, Marian parachutes into south-west France, her official mission to act as a Resistance courier. But her real destination is Paris, where she must seek out family friend Clement Pelletier, once the focus of her adolescent desires. A nuclear physicist engaged in the race for a new and terrifying weapon, he is of urgent significance to her superiors. As she struggles through the strange, lethal landscape of the Occupation towards this reunion, what completes her training is the understanding that war changes everything, and neither love nor fatherland may be trusted.

Format: Audiobook (11h 33m)   Publisher: W.F. Howes
Publication date: 1st May 2012 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky was on the longlist for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2013 and the follow-up, Tightrope, which continues Marian’s story and which I read in 2018 (I know, wrong order) won The Walter Scott Prize in 2016. I listened to the audiobook version superbly narrated by Anna Bentinck. Although I’m no expert, her French pronunciation sounded pretty flawless to me.

The book opens in dramatic style with Marian becoming literally the girl who fell from the sky. Thereafter the reader is taken back in time to Marian’s initial recruitment to a very shadowy organization whose name is not shared even with recruits. Along with others, Marion undergoes a rigorous training programme, the details of which I found absolutely fascinating. The training includes the tradecraft required for an agent going undercover in enemy territory, in this case occupied France.

Once in France, Marian adopts a series of cover names and, through her eyes, we witness the constant fear of putting a foot wrong, of having your cover blown as a result of the smallest error or betrayal by another, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The events described in the book vividly illustrate the courage of those who were part of the Resistance, risking their lives every day. The tension never lets up and I found the whole story absolutely gripping.

In three words: Compelling, action-packed, exciting

Try something similar: City of Spies by Mara Timon

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Simon MawerAbout the Author

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England, and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus and in Malta. He then moved to Italy, where he and his family lived for more than thirty years, and taught at the British International School in Rome. He and his wife currently live in Hastings. Simon Mawer is the author of several novels including the Man Booker shortlisted The Glass Room, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky and Tightrope. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview Kyiv by Graham Hurley @HoZ_Books

KYIV blog tour banner_V1

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Kyiv by Graham Hurley, his latest WW2 thriller set against the backdrop of Operation Barbarossa, the German code name for the invasion of Russia. My thanks to Lauren at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.


Hurley_KYIV_HBAbout the Book

On Sunday 22nd June 1941 at 03.05, three-and-a-half million Axis troops burst into the Soviet Union along a 1,800-mile front to launch Operation Barbarossa. The southern thrust of the attack was aimed at the Caucuses and the oil fields beyond. Kyiv was the biggest city to stand in their way.

Within six weeks, the city was under siege. Surrounded by Panzers, bombed and shelled day and night, Soviet Commissar Nikita Krushchev was amongst the senior Soviet officials co-ordinating the defence. Amid his cadre of trusted personnel is British defector Bella Menzies, once with MI5, now with the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.

With the fall of the city inevitable, the Soviets plan a bloody war of terror that will extort a higher toll on the city’s inhabitants than the invaders. As the noose tightens, Bella finds herself trapped, hunted by both the Russians and the Germans.

As the local saying has it: life is dangerous – no one survives it.

Format: Hardcover (416 pages) Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 8th July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

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My Review

I really enjoyed Last Flight to Stalingrad, the first book in Graham Hurley’s Spoils of War series. Although part of the same series, Kyiv can definitely be read as a standalone.

The setting is the city we today know as Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and once again the author blends historical fact and fiction into the storyline. For example, Kim Philby, who it’s clear knows how to bowl a googly, makes an early appearance and Guy Burgess turns up soon afterwards. However, the two main characters, Isobel (Bella) Menzies and Tam Moncrieff are fictional.

In alternating chapters, the book charts events over the course of several weeks starting in September 1941. We follow Bella as she travels to Kiev alongside Ilya Glivenko (known as The Pianist) who is overseeing the transport of a mysterious cargo to that city from Britain. And we witness the attempts by Bella’s lover, intelligence officer Tam, to unearth more information about Bella. In the process, he uncovers evidence, in true John le Carré style, about possible moles at the heart of the British intelligence operation.

With the benefit of hindsight, the reader won’t find it hard to identify likely individuals, but for Tam it means following his instincts. There’s a terrific scene that put me in mind of the exploits of Richard Hannay, the hero of John Buchan’s adventure novels, in which Tam attempts to surreptitiously follow a man he suspects may be a traitor through the streets of London. ‘Moncrieff had spent many years stalking deer in the mountains… the subtle arts of staying upwind, of moving carefully from cover to cover, of closing on the prey’. Despite this experience, Tam finds himself outfoxed and, it becomes apparent, in danger.  Indeed, as Bella observes at one point, “The world is always more complicated than you think”.

For Bella, her time in Kyiv is one of new experiences including being hustled from one safe place to another in order to escape the attentions of Stalin’s secret police, and adopting a new identity courtesy of the enigmatic Larissa. Unfortunately, once Russian forces quit the city and are replaced by a German army of occupation, Bella experiences first-hand what the SS are capable of although, to provide balance, the author demonstrates that not every German supported the extreme acts of violence perpetrated by the Nazi regime. There is one scene in particular that, as a woman, I found hard to read and another that is shocking because of its sheer scale. It’s as Yuri, one of Bella’s Ukranian contacts, had warned: “…everything will change. Everything. Here. In the city. Everywhere. We love the Russians going, but we should be careful what we wish for.”

It’s clear the depth of research that has gone into the book, whether that’s recreating the club-like atmosphere of MI5’s Central Registry in St. Albans, the discomfort of an overnight flight aboard a Halifax, or the streets of the besieged Kyiv as German bombs rain down.

In Kyiv, the author has created an unflinching picture of the chaos, confusion and horror of war, and its long legacy – physical, emotional and psychological – for those who live through it.

In three words: Compelling, authentic, powerful

Try something similar: Hitler’s Secret (Tom Wilde #4) by Rory Clements

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Graham Hurley
Photo credit: Laura Muños

About the Author

Graham Hurley is the author of the acclaimed Faraday and Winter crime novels and an award-winning TV documentary maker. Two of the critically lauded series have been shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime
Novel. The first Wars Within novel, Finisterre, was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.

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