By Ian McEwan
What happens when a middle class British girl, fresh out of Cambridge, finds herself working as a secret agent for MI5? She tells you in the very first paragraph: "I didn't return safely." It's the 1970s, and Serena Frome has been recruited as a low-level worker for the British Security Service. She's made a habit of letting other people direct her life, earning a degree she doesn't care about to please her mother and interviewing for her job at the urging of a lover. Though she enjoys the idea of exciting spy work, interminable typing and filing are what she finds instead. When she's given an assignment, complete with a cover identity and a contact, she's thrilled to have a role in protecting the nation. She comes to realize, however, that lying about who you are isn't as easy as it sounds. This literary spy novel is a meditation on the lies we tell about ourselves, the truths we expect to hear from others, and how they intersect in life and in fiction.
The Double Game
By Dan Fesperman
A spy novel-obsessed former journalist begins receiving instructions from a mysterious source. The clues, laden with references to his favorite books, lead him to Europe and a life he thought he'd left behind. While growing up with his diplomat father he lived in various capitals of the old world, imagining spies around every corner. The deeper into his past he delves, however, the more it seems that the spies might not have been in his imagination. Exactly how has the downward spiral of his personal life been affected by old grudges from the Cold War? And now that he's on the trail, who can he trust? His father seems to be holding things back. A former girlfriend joins him in the hunt but she's suspiciously good at spycraft. And then the people he meets start turning up dead. With plenty of discussion of spy novel greats, this book may be just the thing for a bit of armchair espionage.
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Review by Danny Hanbery