Excerpt from Tamar by Mal Peet, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal

by Mal Peet

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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 432 pages
    Sep 2008, 432 pages

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He was in a windowless room that smelled of mould and something else — paraffin, perhaps. A shelf ran along the wall to his right, and one of the things on it was a large toolbox, the kind a carpenter or electrician might use. It was open, and Dart could see the implements it held. The hard light from three unshaded bulbs made the room seem colder than it was. Dart felt his skin contract.

The two SS men went to stand against the wall behind the thin bespectacled man who sat at a table, studying Dart’s false identity papers. He wore the black uniform of a major of the Gestapo. When he looked up, his expression suggested that he disapproved of Dart coming to this interview in his underwear.

"Good morning," he said.

Unnerved, Dart said, "Good morning," and by the slight downward shift of the Gestapo officer’s mouth realized he’d already made his first mistake.

The major switched to Dutch. "Who recruited you into the British secret services? Was it Colonel Nicholson? Neave? Perhaps the persuasive Mr. Clements?"

Dart kept his face blank. "I don’t know any of those names. I am a doctor."

The major, without taking his eyes from Dart’s, tapped the identity papers. "Not exactly. Not according to these. You are not fully qualified, it seems."

"True," Dart admitted. "The war interrupted my studies."

"In other words, you are merely pretending to be a doctor."

"I have a licence to practise under the emergency regulations. It is attached to my identification, as you see."

The major pushed Dart’s papers away with his fingertips as if they were a particularly grubby work of pornography. "When did you arrive in Holland?"

"I do not understand the question."

"Yes, you do. You understand the question, and, as a matter of fact, I know the answer."

Dart was silent. The major shrugged, a dismissive gesture. "I am slightly interested in finding out which resistance organization you are attached to, even though they are all useless. What are you: a royalist, socialist, communist, or some other kind of -ist?"

Dart said, "I am a doctor. I have no interest in politics."

The major leaned back in his chair. "Let me tell you something, my friend. The British are, as they themselves might say, taking the piss. You know that expression?"

Dart said nothing.

"Of course you do. The British send us rubbish like you to waste our time. They persuade you that you are doing something important. That you have real secrets, which you must go to your death before revealing. Their idea is that people like me, who have useful things to do, will waste our time in conversations like these." He rose and went to stand behind Dart, who, despite himself, twitched.

"Let me tell you something else, Mr. so-called Lubbers. We know your real name. In fact, we know a great deal about you. One of your colleagues gave us this information just before he died. There is nothing for you to protect, except yourself. It would save us both a great deal of time, and it would prevent me getting very, very irritated, if you were to cooperate. Do you understand?"

After an hour, the Gestapo major yawned and looked at his watch. He turned to the SS sergeant behind him and said in English, "Williams? You still awake? Get the cuffs off our friend here and offer the poor sod a cigarette. Give him a blanket too, before he freezes to death."

Grinning, the sergeant released Dart. "You did all right, boy," he said. His accent was liltingly Welsh.

Dart said unhappily, "I was lousy."

The Gestapo major, rubbing his hands together for warmth, said, "Well, not too bad, Dart. Six out of ten, I’d say. Maybe seven. An extra mark for bladder control."

His real name was Franklin, and for SOE purposes he held the rank of captain. "We’ll talk it through at ten o’clock. I’ll tell canteen to hold a breakfast for you. I expect you might fancy a bit of a lie-in."

TAMAR. Copyright © 2007 Mal Peet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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