Tag Archives: Rachel Hore

#BookReview ‘A Beautiful Spy’ by @Rachelhore #WW2 #spies

Rachel Hore is one of my favourite go-to authors when I want well-written, thoughtful escapism. Her latest is A Beautiful Spy, a pre-Second World War spy story based on a real case involving the infiltration of a communist spy cell. Rachel HoreAt a garden party in the summer of 1928, Minnie Gray is bored. She’s there with her mother who is trying to fix up her up with another young man, when she notices a striking young woman. When the enigmatic Miss Pyle asks if Minnie would consider working for the government, Minnie recognises a chance to escape her mother’s suffocating attention and her boring job at the Automobile Association.
Minnie meets Captain Max Knight, ‘M’, and is recruited as a member of British Intelligence’s M Section with the code name M/12. She moves to London, finds a flat and a part-time secretarial job. Her first task is to attend meetings of the local Friends of the Soviet Union group and volunteer to help. Her new life must be kept a secret from her Tory-supporting family and boyfriend, Raymond.
What follows is Minnie’s progressive immersion in the British Communist Party. Always a self-reliant person, Minnie begins to struggle with the secrecy. Feeling she belongs nowhere, living her life in disconnected bubbles of people who are unaware of each other, she seeks out new friends at a hockey club that she can be herself with. Minnie’s career as a spy has a up and down trajectory, most of the time nothing happens, and she feels she is failing her bosses. But all the time she is cementing her reputation as a reliable, trustworthy secretary and this pays off when she is asked to take secret money to communist supporters in India. Minnie meticulously keeps records, writes reports for M and tries to be nosy while seeming disinterested. As the tension increases and she feels watched, the danger she is risking becomes real and not a game.
Hore added her own imagination to the factual story of real-life spy Olga Gray who spied for Maxwell Knight of British Intelligence and whose testimony helped to convict a number of communists in 1938 for treachery. Using a true story as the foundation of a novel has its advantages and disadvantages. At times the story pauses, for exposition or perhaps because there were periods in the real life Gray’s story when not a lot happened, and this means the flow of tension can seem stop-start.
I really enjoyed A Beautiful Spy. It’s the sort of novel I wish I could find more often. It certainly means I’ll be reading the non-fiction books mentioned by Hore in her Author’s Note at the end.

Click the title to read my reviews of two other books by Rachel Hore:-
The Love Child
A Week in Paris

If you like this, try:-
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A BEAUTIFUL SPY by @Rachelhore #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5lL via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Love Child’ by Rachel Hore #historicalromance

The Love Child by Rachel Hore is not just an adoption story of birth mother and daughter, it is a story of women’s lives between the wars when shame and public expectation, not love, governed family decisions. In 1917 Alice Copeman, a 19-year old nurse, falls in love with a soldier home on leave. They expect to marry but he is killed. No one else knows of their relationship, it is wartime and everything happened so quickly. But Alice is pregnant. Rachel Hore

Mourning for Jack, Alice is forced by her father and stepmother to give the child up for adoption. In the Essex seaside town of Farthingsea, Edith and Philip Burns long for their own child. When they adopt a baby girl Irene, they expect their family to be happily complete. But Irene feels different from her parents and grows frustrated at the lies told about her birth; in particular she struggles to connect with her mother Edith and often feels rejected. At school she is bullied. At home she feels second rate to her younger brother, conceived by Edith and Philip after they adopted Irene. Things improve for Irene when she makes friends with a boy from the disreputable artistic part of town; Tom lives with his single mother and he too is different. Both Tom and his mother are positive influences on Irene.

This is a story told in two strands – Alice and Irene – first as each makes her own way in the world, and then as their paths come closer together. Alice’s story – qualifying as a doctor and working as a GP – is fascinating and a glimpse of a time when female doctors were starting to appear. Irene is also independent, leaving Farthingsea to work in London at an art gallery. In these inter-war years it was still difficult for independent women to make their own way. Old-fashioned standards and expectations prove a challenge for both Alice and for Irene and often at the hands of other women.

A little slow to start, not helped as the storyline jumps around from year to year, it settled down halfway through. At times I confused Irene’s adoptive mother Edith with Alice’s stepmother Gwen, both are sharp-edged women whose words can wound.

This is a novel of love, separation, shame and mother and daughter dynamics; it ultimately shows how the road to love can take many diversions and twists along the way. Both Alice and Irene are rather self-contained and defensive, afraid of being hurt, but they are also capable of being loved if they allow their self-protection to drop. This is a reflective and sensitive portrayal of the adoption dilemma when the hunger of one individual for the truth may cause pain to others.

A note about the cover; I could see no link between the story and a rowing boat at sunset.

Here’s my review of A Week in Paris, also by Rachel Hore.

If you like this, try:-
‘Another You’ by Jane Cable
‘The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer
The House on the Shore’ by Victoria Howard 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LOVE CHILD by Rachel Hore #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4xa via @SandraDanby