Monday, February 2, 2015

Grandmother's war service featured in Kearsley thriller

Image from Susanna Kearsley

What did you do in the war? It's never occurred to the young journalist Kate Murray to ask the grandmother she thinks she knows so well. When she finally does ask, it's too late.

This thriller, originally published under the name Emma Cole and recently re-issued, begins with an apparently chance encounter. While Kate works at covering a London trial for her newspaper, an elderly man introduces himself as Andrew Deacon, addresses her by name, asks after her grandmother, and tells her he has a story he believes will interest her. Intrigued but still distracted by her current task, she accepts his card and agrees to dine with him later. She never gets the chance.

Just minutes later, Deacon is killed in a "hit and run" accident, right in front of Kate. But who was this man, and how was he connected to her grandmother? The timing of his death seems suspicious, and she broods on it while visiting the English family of a man who is pursuing her romantically. Thus tipped from her ordinary life, Kate enters an astonishing reality where few things or people are what they seem.

Back home in Toronto, when Kate asks her grandma how she knew the dead man, Grandma responds with a surprising story of the secret work she did in New York during WWII. When Grandma is then shot dead, Kate realizes she's on the trail of something truly dangerous. She decides to travel in secret to Portugal, to interview some people who know about a nasty cover-up that happened in 1941.

At the hotel, she literally bumps into a friendly man. She declines to have coffee with him, but soon sees him again. Is he following her? He's there again when she interviews an old woman, and she's horrified to think she may be putting her source in danger. As if that isn't bad enough, can it be coincidence that someone else agrees to talk to her, then dies before they can meet?

Fast paced and exciting, this novel is a classic thriller that differs from Kearsley's other work. As we have learned to expect from this author, the story is also grounded in real history, in this case the work of the World War II spy William Stephenson, (hand-picked by Churchill and and portrayed in the 1970 TV series as A Man Called Intrepid) and the Canadian women who worked for him in secret. In the line of duty, women like Kate's fictitious grandmother sometimes had to do much more than routine office work.

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