This is the follow up book to Finisterre reviewed on Arrse earlier this year. Set just prior to the D Day landings this is a story about spies, the French Resistance and German Intelligence, both Abwehr and SD. Like his previous book, Hurley goes into finite detail of his characters and their lives. While this is very good, at times it gets in the way of the plot which just seems to be there to hang the characters on. Indeed the title “Aurore” is the operation name yet is mentioned only once in the book. This sticking to the minutiae of the characters lives means that one is left trying to recall what each one is supposed to be doing in respect of then plot!
- Graham Hurley
Having said that the story is good, even if there are some implausible bits in it. For instance, when one of the German characters wishes to know the location of precious works of art hidden by the French as the Germans invaded, he just picks up the telephone, dials London and is immediately connected to a French art expert who left France as the Germans arrived. The search for the artwork, especially the Mona Lisa, is one of the sub-plots.
The main plot covers a young RAF Wireless Operator, Billy Angell, who has just completed his 30 sorties and is due a posting to a training squadron. Prior to the war he was an actor so this mysterious MI5 team select him to be flown to France, to act as a bailed out airman who deserted his perfectly good aircraft and who was to be captured by the Germans trying to hide in France. I am not sure bailing out over France is a good way to hide from the war. Anyway, he is given a cover story of his brother carrying out secret tests on beaches at Dunkirk to determine their suitability for invasion forces.
His hiding place takes him to the chateau (of course) of a beautiful French Countess who also has a German lover, Colonel Klimt, who is a senior officer in the Abwehr. As I said before it can be implausible at times but the story fits them in very well. There are so many side plots as I have said and for the Countess it is not only her lover but the fact that she owns a prize winning stallion which is put to stud for another German. All very distracting.
The German officer is in the highly political world of German intelligence and is very close to being arrested by the SD as a traitor to Hitler. However, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), in the form of SS Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg, a real character from the time and head of the SD, wants to start peace negotiations with the Allies so he sends Colonel Klimt to England via Lisbon in the regular service between Lisbon and England. Klimt meets with the team who sent Billy Angell to France who play with Klimt then send him back. I am not sure how easy it was for a Colonel in the Abwehr to fly to England in 1944 but hey ho, it is fiction.
In the meantime Billy Angell has been captured as hoped and given his story to the Germans who don’t believe a word. He and the Countess are sent to concentration camps where, after admitting that his story was all lies, he is repatriated to England via the Lisbon air taxi service. I can just see the Germans freeing someone who has seen the horrors of a concentration camp plus is an admitted spy.
Now that all sounds very negative, yet if you suspend some belief and treat this as fiction and a good thriller type story then you won’t be disappointed. The story is a good one and getting some empathy with the characters is easy. This mixing of fact and fiction is something that Hurley has taken on and uses well in his stories. This is a good read which I found to be compelling once I was in to the story.
Well worth a read. 4/5 Mr Mushroomheads