I have just put this down. I wasn’t sure to start with that I was going to like this, however its one of Mum’s favourites and its also been on my TBR pile for far too long and I planned to read it a few weeks ago and read ‘Underground’ by Tobias Hill instead… big mistake, well sort of. ‘Spies’ from the title I thought was going to be Michael Frayn’s massive Second World War espionage tale, what I found was indeed intriguing and wonderful but I need to learn not just to judge a book by its cover but also by its title.
‘Spies’ starts with an old man heading back to his youth where he tells the tale of Keith and Stephen, two friends who live on ‘the close’ during the Second World War. It took me a while to realise that he is Stephen as he speaks about himself as another person in some parts and as ‘I’ in others, I found this slightly off putting and confusing at first but once you get that in your head the book is much easier to follow and you can get into and concentrate on the story, and what a story it is.
The Second World War seems to have not affected the boys, bar one of the neighbours houses being wiped off the street by a wayward bomb, that is until one day Keith announces that his mother ‘is a German spy’ and things change, at first Stephen isn’t sure as Keith has already announced that one of the neighbours is a murderer (though they do find bones in his garden) however they decide to watch her and see what happens. What starts as a child’s game becomes anything but, and as these young boys become young men things start to change all around them, and hard lessons must be learnt.
Frayn writes this novel brilliantly, you’re hooked by the story and Frayn weaves in more clues and red herrings as you go. He also writes brilliant characters, Keith’s parents are done wonderfully, she the nice seeming woman and he the frightening dictator which of course affects Keith’s character. Stephen who the story bases around is real, he makes huge mistakes, can be a coward but can also be very brave. There is also the brilliant character of Barbara the annoying girl next door who is interfering but also used wonderfully to describe how boys and girls feel about each other at awkward ages.
This is a brilliant book that yes does have a mystery ‘spy’ story to it but also is a story that is told brilliantly from a child’s perspective, and deals with becoming an adult, adult’s secrets, the War and things that go one behind closed doors and all in less than 250 pages, a real accomplished book. I would recommend this to everyone; mind you everyone has probably already read it.