I can really recommend The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, which had me on the edge of my seat.
It’s not the first book I’ve read about the secret heroines of WW2 – brave multi-lingual women who were parachuted into France to help coordinate the resistance. There is a link at the bottom of the page to a non-fiction account, and William Boyd’s Restless, which I read a while ago also touches on this topic. It is the first book I’ve read by Simon Mawer, but probably won’t be the last.
Mawer tells the story from the point of view of Marian Sutro, dual nationality, brought up in France, born in Geneva to a very middle class and privileged family. I suppose as a bloke I’m not really qualified to make this judgement, but Mawer does seem to be able to get inside this young woman’s head, right down to the occasional sex scene: others might disagree though.
Marian, working in London in some signals capacity, is approached and recruited to special ops (SOE). We get to see her inducted into the life of a spy, follow her through training, meet the other trainees, share their vulnerabilities and experiences, and finally, in France, follow the thrilling climax in which she visits Paris with a view to extracting an old family friend, a scientist connected to atomic physics. The fact that Marian in peacetime had a romantic entanglement with this scientist adds an extra dimension, as does the involvement of her brother, a Cambridge researcher himself. Mawer manages all these coincidences very well without straining the credibility of the novel.
William Boyd is my benchmark for this kind of fiction, and Mawer certainly hits the mark.