Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (February 2012, Electric Monkey, ISBN: 1405258217)
Notes: The following review is written by Sarah Hilary (mother of fellow guest reviewer Milly) who reviews crime fiction on my Euro Crime website. You can read her crime reviews here.
Review: I love stories told in two parts, from different narrative viewpoints, and that is just one of many many things to love about this book. The first half is told by 'Verity', a captured female spy being interrogated by the Gestapo in a former hotel in France. She begins her story with the words, 'I am a coward', but you don't have to read much further before you realise this simply isn't true.
Tortured, threatened and terrified, Verity proves her courage again and again. Under the cover of writing a confession for her captors, she tells the story of how she came to be a spy, how she met her best friend, Maddie ('It's like falling in love, finding your best friend') and how the pair of them came to be in France.
'We're a sensational team', Verity tells us. It's this friendship that drives the story, as we try to piece together the clues in Verity's confession - being made in extremis - to get at the exact truth of what happened to the sensational team.
Elizabeth Wein lays many excellent traps for the reader along the way; expect to have your heart in your mouth a lot of the time. Is Verity really betraying her country (Scotland, not England)? Is she going to die? Is her best friend already dead, or in terrible danger? Will the two young women ever see one another again?
Midway through, the story switches to Maddie's voice. This is the tricky point at which an author can lose a reader, especially one who's fallen in love, the way she helps us fall in love with Verity. But it only takes a couple of pages for us to love Maddie, too, and to marvel at how distinctly different her voice is to Verity's.
These women are alive. They leap off the page and grip you by the hand, and then the heart. You desperately want them to have a happy ending, but at the same time you sense it would be cheating, or lying, to arrive at this after the harrowing and entirely believable scenes which have unfolded.
To move the reader without resorting to sentiment. To arrive at an ending that is both honest and uplifting. To make you think afresh about a part of history you thought you knew. To transport you, for the time it takes to read the book, to a different time and another world, while showing you so clearly why these stories matter and how they can resonate. These are proofs positive of a gifted, compassionate and generous author.
I doubt I'll read a better book this year.
Sarah blogs at Crawl Space.