I’ve read some of all the espionage masters — Le Carré, Greene, Littell — but don’t remember ever reading a book with a female spy as the lead. When I encountered The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, with a cover blurb from Alan Massie that said “As good as le Carré”, I had to try it.
Marian Sutro is a young woman, half British and half French, with a command of French, a taste for adventure, and a restlessness that makes her jump at a chance for an unspecified, clandestine opportunity to help Britain in the war (World War II). Before she knows it she is in training as a spy, jumping out of airplanes, and exploring her first fumbling experiences of sex. And Marian turns out to have a taste and a talent for firearms.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is much more in the vein of Alan Furst than Le Carré. There’s little in the way of the moral ambiguity or the creeping sense that there aren’t any good guys or bad guys, just shades of grey, the calling card of Le Carré. Rather, this is WWII and the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good, if a bit unfussy about methods. The first half of the book is leisurely — it’s not until halfway through that Marian finally graduates from training and does a parachute jump into the French countryside. There are a lot of atmospherics, which makes one think of Furst, capturing the sense of wartime, even as events themselves move slowly. But the second half of the book accelerates, the tension rises, and Marian’s recklessness increases. The rendering of a female spy who is reckless to the point of irrationality, but is still a believable character, is something unique I don’t think I’ve encountered in the dozens of espionage novels I’ve read.
I really enjoyed this book (although “as good as Le Carré” might be over-stating things) — I’m very much looking forward to Tightrope, the sequel.
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(Note: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky was published in the UK; it appeared in the US under the title Trapeze — not sure why they ditched such an awesome title).