By Amy McAuley
Available now from Walker Books (Bloomsbury)
A young spy is captured in Nazi-occupied France and interrogated about her mission. No, this isn't CODE NAME VERITY. It's VIOLINS OF AUTUMN, and the book may begin with a flash forward to Adele's interrogation, but her story begins a little over a month before in May 1944.
The Allies are poised to invade France at any moment. Meanwhile, their spies must arm and train the French Resistance in preparation for D-Day. Plain, unassuming Betty, now known as Adele Blanchard, is a courier. Trustworthy and poker-faced, fluent in French and German, it is her job to pass secret messages throughout France. It isn't long before things go wrong for her and fellow spy Denise, leaving them stranded in Paris with downed pilot Robbie.
I enjoyed VIOLINS OF AUTUMN despite not being a historical fiction fan. (There is more than enough history woven throughout to thrill any World War II buff.) A great deal of my goodwill is for Adele. She's an admirable character. She thinks fast on her feet and is extremely practical. She's a young woman who knows that her decisions could result in her death or the deaths of others. She begins the book armed with a poker-face, quick lies, and her training, but by the end she must use everything in her arsenal to survive.
There is, of course, romance. Robbie, a sixteen-year-old, lied about his age to join the Air Force and is too soft for the situation he finds himself in. Pierre, a handsome member of the French Resistance, thinks Adele is nothing more than a flighty girl. I appreciated that Amy McAuley gave her heroine two love interests but didn't force a love triangle. Adele is too busy fighting an underground war to worry about which boy she likes.
The missions were quite exciting. Germans lurk around any corner, ready for any slip, from accidentally speaking in English to ordering black coffee. (Due to rationing of milk and sugar, black coffee was assumed.) Adele must complete her missions with little more than a bike and a notebook.
I also liked the friendship between Adele and radio operator Denise. Denise is a little more impulsive than Adele, but she's a skilled spy in her own right and a good friend. I've recently read a lot of books centered around female friendships and I really can't get enough of them. Friendships last a lifetime, especially when your friend is the only person you can trust not to be a double agent.
Espionage, friendship, and romance all played out to the background of WWII. If that doesn't appeal to you, then VIOLINS OF AUTUMN probably isn't your thing. But given how many people love CODE NAME VERITY, I think there are quite a few people looking for just that.