Book review: The English Agent by Clare Harvey
When a young English agent is dropped by plane into Nazi-occupied France to work as a wireless operator, it is just the start of a mission that will soon become a desperate fight for survival.
In the follow-up to her acclaimed debut novel The Gunner Girl, Clare Harvey whisks us away to the heart of war-torn Paris where secret agents working for the SOE (Secret Operations Executive), risked their lives on a daily basis to help the French Resistance movement.
An ex-army wife, Harvey’s thrilling tales of wartime romance and drama were inspired by her mother-in-law’s experience during the Second World War and were written while her own husband was on active service in Afghanistan.
In The English Agent, we meet up again with Edie Lightwater whose traumatic experiences during the Blitz have left her eager to leave behind dark memories and the shame and chaos of past events, and ‘do her bit’ for the war effort.
And in a fast-paced and dangerous tale of intrigue and spine-tingling tension, Harvey blends fact and fiction as Edie’s life-and-death mission in France plays out against the secret battles in the life of Vera Atkins, the real-life intelligence officer who helped to run the French Section of the SOE in London.
After a series of setbacks in bombed-out London and her experiences with the gunners, Edie Lightwater feels utterly disillusioned with life and jumps at the chance to work with the SOE, helping the Resistance in Paris.
French family connections means Edie speaks the language fluently and after rigorous training as a wireless operator under the supervision of Vera Atkins, she is given the codename Yvette Colbert and parachuted into France posing as a piano teacher.
Edie, who is the SOE’s youngest agent, is soon thrust into the deep end of espionage. The Paris cell has been ordered to sabotage a prototype weapons development on the outskirts of the city and Edie’s skills will be paramount to the perilous mission.
Back in London, Vera desperately needs to be made a UK citizen to erase the secrets of her past life in Romania and to prevent her position at the SOE becoming vulnerable to blackmail. But when she loses contact with an important agent in the field, a young woman codenamed Yvette Colbert, her loyalties are torn...
Immaculately researched and plotted, Harvey’s page-turning thriller packs a powerful punch as we weave between the troubled lives of Edie and Vera, with the danger posed by the Nazi occupation of Paris an ever-present, menacing shadow.
Brimming with intrigue, heart-pounding action, plenty of twists and turns, fascinating period detail and a cast of dynamic characters, The English Agent is a compelling saga and will have readers gripped until the last page has turned.
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)