World War II, which was clearly the most consequential event of the last century, is an endless source of rich material for novelists. Here now is Simon Mawer with Tightrope, a tautly written espionage novel that spans the time from the run-up to the war to the years that followed the hostilities.

Marian Sutro, the protagonist of Tightrope, is the teenage daughter of a British diplomat stationed in Geneva when World War II breaks out. Because of her fluency in French as well as English, she is enlisted in Britain’s super-secret Special Operations Executive and parachuted behind Nazi lines in France in 1943. After successfully spiriting a French nuclear scientist out of the country, she is captured, beaten, and tortured by the Gestapo, then sent to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. Somehow, she survives the experience. As the author explains, “She had been a girl barely out of school, and then a trainee, and then a trained agent, and then a killer, and then a prisoner in the purlieus of hell. Normality was so long ago that she could barely recall it and certainly couldn’t aspire to recovering it.”

Tightrope by Simon Mawer @@@@ (4 out of 5)

The plot of Tightrope is complex. Marian has worked for not one but two of Britain’s secret spy agencies, which have clashing agendas. A beautiful young woman, she is quick to jump into bed with many of the men with whom she works, occasioning additional complications. She has dark secrets, and her memory plays tricks on her as well. The ending will surprise.

Simon Mawer, a British author who lives in Italy, has won a passel of literary awards for his previous ten novels.

For further reading

My posts 5 top nonfiction books about World War II (plus many runners-up) and The 10 best novels about World War II (plus 19 runners-up) may interest you.

If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).

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