Code Name Verity. Among others, I've been reading some of Connie Willis' time travel books, a mystery called A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell, and watched The Bletchley Circle on DVD. In amongst these, I listed to Trapeze by Simon Mawer. To describe it most simplistically, it's Verity for adults.
Like Verity, teenaged Marian Sutro has been doing her part for the war effort in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), but her French language skills (honed by her Swiss upbringing) catch the eye of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). I learned in this book that SOE personnel weren't technically spies, their work of raids and bombings were solely intended to disrupt and demoralize the occupying Nazis. They might occasionally conduct a "spy" mission and that is what Marian is asked to do once she arrives in France: Contact a French physicist and convince him to escape to England. Clement Pelletier is actually an old friend of Marian's family so SOE believes she has a chance at success. What they don't know is that Marian has been in love with Clement since she was a young teen.
I found this book almost unbearably suspenseful. Marian is not a nice person most of the time -- she rebels against her trainers, she doesn't work well with her fellow recruits, she's rude and unpleasant with her family, she seduces the young Frenchman who joins her on her mission, code name Trapeze. All this made me fearful for her: She's not alert enough, she thinks she's smarter than the Nazis chasing her, she's losing the respect of the allies who could save her life. And as wartime Paris grows more dangerous, well I was listening with my heart in my throat. The ending is a shocker. I had to listen twice because I'd ceased hearing as I attempted to process what had happened.
Thirty-nine women joined the French section of SOE during World War II, according to Mawer, and thirteen died during the war (all but one executed by the Nazis). Listening to this, and now reading Connie Willis' two-book homage to the era of Blackout/All Clear -- which describes the jaw-dropping courage of ordinary Londoners enduring The Blitz from the safety (or not) of an underground station -- one can't help but wonder how one might measure up. Not well, I suspect for myself. I mean, I get cranky without a shower and a decent night's sleep.
Kate Reading reads Trapeze. (She pronounces her name with a short e and Mawer's as if it were spelled Moore [to American ears].) She's awfully good, reading with a clipped British accent for most of the narrative. I thought this was an excellent choice for Marian's story, as her short temper and headstrong actions are ably reflected in such no-nonsense speech. Reading is called on to read a significant amount of French, which sounds perfect to my ignorant ears, and to read English dialogue with French, German, and American accents. She pulls them all off with skill.
Reading's pacing is excellent throughout, but it just killed me too! As Marian makes the book's final journey into and out of Paris, Reading keeps it steady, but with an underlying tension that puts the listener in Marian's shoes (where you don't really want to be).
Mawer's drew his inspiration for Marian Sutro from Anne-Marie Walters, whose post-war memoir -- Moondrop to Gascony -- holds pride of place on his bookshelf. He pays tribute to Walters by making Marian's code name Anne-Marie, and by dedicating the book to her via her own code name: Colette.
The book's original title is The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (which was already taken by this book in the United States). Usually, I don't like it when they change the names of books when they head to our shores, but in this case Trapeze adds a note of glamour and suspense that the original title lacks.
[The photograph of Anne-Marie Walters was retrieved from the alumni website of the International School of Geneva. Both Anne-Marie and Marian were alumnae.]
Trapeze by Simon Mawer
Narrated by Kate Reading
Blackstone Audio, 2012. 11:26