Summary: World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.
As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?
Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)
Review: The early '40s in England are an interesting time. Fully embroiled in a war that isn't going well, incessant fears of a German invasion, and no help in sight from America, the upper class finds itself swimming in rumors. It doesn't help that a new group--the Ring--is rumored to be recruiting upper class members in an effort to either reinstate a more Nazi-sympathetic king to the throne, or to just support the coming German forces. Matters aren't helped along by the discovery of a possible spy. The parachutist (victim of a failed jump) is in local military garb, but something just isn't quite right ...
This novel took a lot on. Not only are Bowen's characters investigating this potential spy, there are various subplots to keep afloat. Love triangles, escaped RAF pilots, Bletchley Park, MI5, black markets, fleeing artists (or spies?!), and displaced persons from London--there is a LOT to remember in this book, and Bowen does a surprisingly good job making it all fit together. All of these moving pieces play some role in the overarching plot, each lending a hint here, some depth there, and allowing the reader to get a little closer to the truth. While on paper, or in the midst of reading, one may question how on earth it all matters, at the end I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with her plot choices.
However, sometimes too many subplots can bog down a novel, and I felt like that that happens here to some extent. It was subtle. There wasn't anything glaringly out of place, nothing that felt overly fabricated. But there was just a little too much weight for the novel to carry. Instead of a sports car, we ended up with a station wagon--albeit, a really nice, fully decked out station wagon.
Despite being weighed down, this is a really enjoyable read. The story is a little predictable, as are the characters, but it's comfortable in its own right. Sometimes you just need predictability, you know what I mean? That being said, some of the secondary characters in this novel just stole my heart. I wish I could have seen more of Lady Phoebe and her antics, and I'm dying to uncover the history of her governess. Those fleeing artists I told you about? They get part of a chapter as they are vetted and cleared by our MI5 agent, but I'd have been happier to see them get a larger chunk. So much spunk!
It was these bright, unexpected, vivid pops of color in this otherwise-pastel book that kept me reading. Pastel isn't bad. Sometimes, that's exactly what one needs. This is definitely a novel I'd keep around for those times. (And if Ms. Bowen wanted to do a follow-up and let me revisit those adorably crazy characters again, I wouldn't complain!)
Rating: Three and a half stars
For the Sensitive Reader: There are two scenes where our heroine finds herself in an embrace too amorous for her taste. While our heroine desires a little decorum, her sister emphatically does not, and complicates matters.