An Unlikely Spy

Rebecca Starford. Ecco, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-303788-5

Class and ideologies collide in Starford’s consummate debut, a clever combination of home front drama and espionage thriller. A chance encounter at a London hotel in 1948 with an old boarding school friend sends heroine Evelyn Varney’s mind reeling back into her past . At school, the charismatic Julia Wharton-Wells, a little older and from a higher class background, takes Evelyn under her wing. Evelyn then goes on to study German at Oxford, and when the war begins, she finds work at the War Office. Her ability to speak German brings her to the attention of MI5, whose Bennett White recruits her for a dangerous assignment to infiltrate a group of homegrown Nazi sympathizers known as the Lion Society. Evelyn can’t tell any of her friends of the role she’s undertaken, which has repercussions when she finds out that Julia’s lover might be a spy for Germany. Plot twist follows plot twist as Evelyn’s assignment forces her to confront multiple layers of betrayal and deception. The author does an excellent job of recreating London before, during, and after the war, and in Evelyn has created a complex heroine whose sense of duty gets her in way over her head. With suspense worthy of Hitchcock and a moral reckoning straight out of Le Carré or Graham Greene, this is a winner. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (June)