cover image Tightrope


Simon Mawer. Other Press, $15.95 ISBN 978-1-59051-723-9

In the classical mode of a Graham Greene “entertainment,” Mawer’s (Trapeze) latest introduces the reader to Englishwoman Marian Sutro, who spent World War II as an SOE undercover agent in France, where she was betrayed, tortured by the Gestapo, and ultimately sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Repatriated to England at war’s end, Marian has a difficult time getting on with her life. Tortured by memories of her wartime experiences, she nevertheless marries and finds work as a librarian. But then a man from her past, Major Fawley, appears and asks her to spy for his secret organization. At the same time, she meets a Russian journalist, David Trofimovich Absolon, who turns out to be a GRU agent intending to blackmail her. She ends up walking a tightrope between both men. And then there is Sam Wareham, a younger man who has had a crush on Marian for years and will end up her confidante, lover, and maybe even her savior. Like le Carré, Mawer spins out Marian’s story in an immaculately methodical and suspenseful manner. And in Marian he has created a complex, contradictory heroine, emotionally fragile, endlessly resourceful, and unrepentantly amorous. If the novel is a little too long and too busy, it nevertheless tells a dramatic story about one woman testing the boundaries of loyalty as one kind of war gives way to a shadowy new one. (Nov.)