Ms. Atkinson has written an attractive spy thriller and mystery, set in 1940 and 1951. Given Atkinson’s past books, then it is no surprise that the story unfolds in a non-linear format. Juliet is recruited to MI5, and the resulting story is very English with regular tea providing comfort and solace to characters named Peregrine and Prendergast. Much like George Smiley in the legendary Le Carre novels, people in Atkinson’s story appear normal and ordinary, but nothing will be as it seems. This is a very entertaining book with some well-timed plot twists.
This story is told in tantalizing pieces/sequences, alternating between 1925 to 2012. The slow reveal of details is exquisite. The central character, Teddy, is complex, both a WWII hero and yet somewhat cowardly in other aspects of his life. His relationship with his daughter Viola is particularly fascinating; she resents his reasonableness. And there is a big surprise at the end but in retrospect, this should have not been surprising because this novel is a companion to Atkinson’s superb last book, Life After Life.
- Majorr. Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson (very British story of honour and duty, unrequited love, racism and sexism …)
- The Boy In The Striped Pajamas – John Boyne (the tragedy of the holocaust from the contrasting viewpoints of two nine year-old boys)
- Behind The Scenes At The Museum – Kate Atkinson (her first book, excellent story-telling, both funny and sad; another “bad mother” book cf. Silver Star)
- The Painted Girls – Cathy Marie Buchanan (1880s Paris, three sisters and a dissolute single mother; one sister joins the ballet and is the model for Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer Age 14”. A hard life)