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BookBrowse Reviews The Innocent Spy by Laura Wilson

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The Innocent Spy

A Mystery

by Laura Wilson

The Innocent Spy by Laura Wilson X
The Innocent Spy by Laura Wilson
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  • Published:
    Jul 2009, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour
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Crime and espionage mix in this first installment in a new series involving historical personalities set in WWII-era London.

Fans of crime and espionage will love The Innocent Spy, especially knowing that it's just the first in a series starring detective Ted Stratton, a character who readers will welcome in future installments. Much of the story line is based around real-life events and personalities, and Laura Wilson blends them all into a captivating mystery concerning a local murder and WWII spies.

Along with Colonel Forbes-James, based on the spymaster Charles Maxwell Knight, Ms. Wilson employs other fascinating characters, such as Diana, an attractive, upper-class girl, (based on Joan Miller, 1918-1984) who successfully infiltrated an anti-semitic organization known as the Right Club in the 1940’s. (See sidebar for an historical guide to main characters). Because so many of the characters are based on historical figures, I suggest the reader take a peek at the author’s background notes at the end of the book before beginning. I stumbled across them about half way through the book and found that the history made the fictional account even more interesting thereafter.

Ms. Wilson creates characters of emotional depth, rather than merely action figures moving the plot along, as is so often the case in fast-paced crime novels. It's wartime, danger lurks at every turn, and no one knows who can be trusted, yet we see the characters with their human frailties often putting themselves at further unnecessary risk to fulfill their personal needs and insecurities. Their internal struggles add a greater dimension to what is already an intelligent and thought-provoking mystery.

We see the many sides of detective Ted Stratton, the main character of the upcoming series. Not only a dogged crime-solver, he is a faithful, loving husband and a tender father, yet he struggles with the ever-present temptations of war-time opportunities to be less than that. Ted Stratton alone would be one reason I would read the next book in the series. His wife Jenny, although a secondary character, is a formidable one. As she says, "Even in espionage, we care about human lives."

Diana is constantly struggling with her many roles: wife, daughter-in-law, mistress, and trying to be a "good" spy. She reminds herself of the words of Forbes-James: "A good spy must be honest, loyal, trustworthy, but only to us." Her turmoil throughout the book, both in thought and deed, add a great deal of human interest to the plot. A key player in the book, she proves indeed to be a "good" spy in spite of not having the greatest confidence in herself.

Though treading familiar ground, Ms. Wilson's writing is fresh and vivid in describing settings unique to the time period - what it feels like in a bomb shelter, traversing dark, bombed-out London streets, or subsisting on meager meals based on ration cards. Her dialogue brilliantly evokes a variety of characters from many stations in life. At one point I thought there were just too many names to keep track of, but with parallel plots moving the story along, I came to appreciate the richness of the cast, and how it all skillfully merges into a fascinating finish.

Already the winner of the 2008 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award under the title Stratton’s War in the UK, this is a hefty book, over 400 pages, with many plot twists as well as explorations of controversial issues, including homosexuality and governmental violation of personal rights during wartime. If you think you would like a book you can sink your teeth into, containing a bevy of colorful characters, an accurate and evocative historical setting - and a bizarre local murder mystery solved amid WII espionage - I recommend The Innocent Spy.

Reviewed by Vy Armour

This review first ran in the September 2, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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Beyond the Book:
  Real-life Spies

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