With a thrilling tale of espionage in France in World War II, Simon Mawer creates a young James Bond – this time a beautiful bilingual twenty year-old woman in Trapeze.

Marian Sutro, daughter of an Englishman and a French mother, is recruited into spy training by the British – a venture that seems exciting and glamorous to the young woman looking for something to do.  Her facility for language, guns, and intricate coding give her unlikely advantages in her new world of secrets and patriotism.

Mawer includes trademark descriptions of Paris and the surrounding countryside, as well as a few French sayings worth keeping:

“…the back of beyond…”

“…to live happily, live hidden…”

The tale includes heart stopping risks, a mad chase through the streets of Paris, a little romance, and informational tidbits about the Underground network and the creation of the atom bomb.  Like his novel The Glass Room, Trapeze manages to incorporate history into a suspenseful adventure.

Related Review:   The Glass Room

Waiting for Sunrise

Sometimes even when you are minding your own business, you can get into trouble. Lysander Rief has no idea that his quiet existence in Vienna is about to become a nightmare in William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise. Rief, an itinerate British actor, has come to the Vienna of Freud in 1913 to find the cure for his anorgasmia. After about one hundred pages of civilized banter, psychoanalysis, and an affair with a beautiful artist, Lysander finds himself an unwilling fugitive and a conspirator.

After his lover, Hettie Bull, cures him of his sexual dysfunction, she falsely accuses him of rape, and Lysander finds himself in a Viennese jail.  He escapes from Vienna with the help of a British diplomat and a military attaché, forfeiting the bail posted by the British Embassy.  Although he manages to reprise his role as an actor in London for a while, World War I intervenes and he enlists.  Suddenly, the two Brits who had helped him escape in Vienna, have reappeared and are demanding he repay his debt – seems they are really spies, enlisting Lysander for a new role:

“My life seems to be running on a track I have nothing to do with — I’m a passenger on a train but I have no idea of the route it’s taking or its final destination.”

Lysander fits his new role as undercover sleuth well, using his former life as an actor to create characters and disguises as he goes behind enemy lines to seek an elusive counterspy. When he finds himself in the midst of crossfire,  Boyd gives his actions credibility, with a smattering of a reluctant James Bond – all lots of fun, especially when Hattie reenters the action and his gay uncle becomes an accomplice.

After a slow start, Boyd delivers a very British spy novel with colorful characters and a plot that will have you wondering who the real spies are.   The time and tone is Downton Abbey with a smattering of Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps.  If you like a little espionage with your crumpets, Waiting for Sunrise might be just your cup of tea.

Phantom by Ted Bell

Looking for a change of pace, I found a spy thriller – opening with terrifying malfunctions in Disney World. Ted Bell’s Phantom is going to be a wild ride.

This will be my first Alex Hawke spy novel – although it’s Bell’s seventh in the series. I’ve only read about a hundred pages but Alex has already saved his three year old son on a train out of Siberia, a Russian submarine has attacked a cruise ship out of Miami, and I’ve learned a new exercise regime – throw a deck of cards in the air and then race around the room, bending and picking them up.

I’m looking forward to this modern James Bond excitement, and should finish it quickly.

Have you read any Alex Hawke adventures?