Elisabeth Hobbes is charting new territory here, and the result is superb. A seasoned writer of Medieval and Victorian historical romances for Harlequin, she is now striking out with a new publisher, One More Chapter, and she’s jumped forward into the heady and terrifying world of occupied France.
Sylvie, or Sylvia, as the more restrained English side of her family wish to call her, joins SOE in 1944 so that she can return to France, the country of her childhood, to help in any way she can. It’s clear early on that Sylvie is highly resourceful and she joins a resistance cell in Nantes dedicated to thwarting the Nazi occupation of their city. As a dancer in a club, Sylvie is able to carry clandestine messages and liaise with other agents. It also means she has access to the German officers who frequent the club each evening. This will provide opportunities to gain important information but will also lead her into danger.
Surviving in a new city with few people to trust, Sylvie strikes up a tentative alliance with Felix, the club’s jazz pianist. Their mutual attraction, evident from the start, plays out in this fraught world of resistance and danger, and Hobbes juggles the different strands of her plot with ease. As with all of her novels, her thorough historical research provides a very secure sense of historical context – the particular joy of this one is that Hobbes’ love of history and her details about women’s experiences in different periods are able to shine through all the more prominently. It is very easy to get lost in her 1940s Nantes, a place Hobbes evidently knows well, and the tension between her characters is palpable.
The Secret Agent confirms Hobbes as an exciting new historical novelist. I thoroughly enjoyed this – highly recommended!