It’s March 1948, and Evelyn Varley’s beau Stephen — an Italian translator — has been offered the opportunity to travel to Rome for a month to begin a new translation of Ovid. He wants Evelyn, a bookseller at a quiet London shop, to join him; but all she can do is promise to think about it. There are complications involved, which neither Stephen — or the reader — know about. Yet.
Then she spots someone over Stephen’s shoulder, through the window of the hotel bar; a person she hasn’t seen in eight years, whose eyes meet hers, which careens her clandestine past into her present, threatening to devastate the life she has built from the ashes. And so we spool backwards in time to 1939, just before Evelyn is recruited by M15, to Bennett White’s elite counter-intelligence department, where she learns to become a chameleon, a master of deceit…
Betrayal is the great theme of Rebecca Starford’s novel — and the dark undercurrent that ripples beneath the best espionage novels. Tension in “The Imitator” is derived not from gunplay or pyrotechnics, but from the moral dilemma faced by its young protagonist as she infiltrates an underground group of Nazi sympathisers, forming connections she’ll inevitably have to snap. But the duplicitous nature inherent in her profession soon manifests in her personal life; after all, Evelyn hasn’t been seconded to a foreign country. She’s a spy operating on the same streets as her friends and family. Which inevitably means someone she knows is entangled in her mission. So it becomes a question of what matters most: Queen and Country, or friendship?
Starford puts a puts a human face on the moral complexities of espionage. And while it’s not laden with bombshell twists, the author is exemplarily erudite with its telling; the prose smooth, the characters and historical backdrop textured. Starford is a natural born storyteller, whose fiction debut suggests even greater things to follow.
Number Of Pages: 352
Published: 2nd February 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin