This is not simply a good novel, but a great one. An intricate and involved story with multi-layered complexity. If your reading tastes are for crime and punishment, or espionage and intrigue, for thriller, whodunit, investigation, history, war, love, and betrayal, then you should read this. It defies genres, ignores them, leaves them trailing in its wake.
Manda Scott has long been known for historical fiction, but moved into the 21st century with ‘Into the Fire.’ In ‘A Treachery of Spies’ her French detective, Ines Picault, has a new case, a series of murders. The investigation quickly becomes tangled in the past, the key to solving the crimes requires her to unravel the relationships of a small cohort of the French resistance, to discover deeply buried secrets, truths obscured by time, and space, by deceptions and lies.
The events of the Second World War are interleaved with the contemporary narrative, painting a vivid picture of an occupied corner France, of the Maquis of the french resistance living in a mountainous landscape of shifting allegiances, of misplaced trust, of secret agents and double crosses. The contemporary setting is forensically detailed. Many of the characters straddle two timelines, outlined in youthful exuberance during the War years, and elderly but far from infirm in the contemporary setting. The secrets they know are the key to the crime – if Ines Picault can get to them before they are killed.
I am a reader. I can disappear into a novel for hours. There are dozens of books I have read at a single breathless sitting. A Treachery of Spies is not one of them. The interwoven timelines, the extensive cast of characters, the relationships and interactions, the descriptions of deceits and remnants of memory made for a story more slowly absorbed, a chapter or two at a time, carefully read, the loose ends left hanging in my mind, snagging and snaring my thoughts until I could pick it up again.
I started reading this book within a few months of finishing ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. ‘Treachery’ is similar in style, tone, setting and complexity. If you enjoyed one, you’ll enjoy the other. They are both challenging, satisfying, rewarding novels which will continue to haunt your thoughts long after you’ve finished reading. I’ve recommended it to all my friends, but told them all to get their own copy. Mine has been safely put aside in the knowledge that I will want to read it again one day.
Addendum. Delighted to hear that Manda Scott was awarded the McIlvanney Prize at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival for this novel, the latest of its many accolades. Read it as soon as you can.