Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson
MADELEINE’S WAR. By Peter Watson. Nan A. Talese Doubleday. 366 pages. $26.95.
World War II is grinding toward an end in Europe, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous to be a spy in occupied France. If anything, the Nazis, knowing an Allied invasion is imminent, have grown more desperate and ruthless.
So when SC2 must choose agents for a particularly dangerous mission, Matthew Hammond has conflicted feelings. He knows that Madeleine Dirac is a very good agent, smart and capable, and that he has made sure she is well trained. He knows that the mission will put her into great danger of being captured, tortured and executed. And he also knows that he loves her.
Matthew is a British Army officer who has been assigned to train men and women for the special unit Prime Minister Winston Churchill has set up to parachute agents into occupied Europe for sabotage, espionage and resistance. He served in France himself earlier in the war, but a serious injury has sidelined him.
Madeleine is a beautiful, feisty French Canadian who is determined to do her part for the Allied effort. Even though such relationships are frowned on, Matthew and Madeleine fall in love during the intensive training and preparation.
After D Day, as Europe becomes even more chaotic, Matthew is sent to France on a top-secret mission, with the secondary task of tracking down missing agents, especially female ones. Some are dead; some are slowly making their way to safety; some are missing. Madeleine’s fate is unknown, and Matthew fears the worst.
Peter Watson is a respected historian and the author of many nonfiction works, as well as two previous novels under the pen name Mackenzie Ford. In Madeleine’s War, Watson gives us a well-written blend of real history and a fictional romance. The history – women spies, Resistance fighters, the deep divisions within France as the war wound down, the growing worries among the other Allies about Russia’s post-war role – is fascinating. The romance and the suspense about what has happened to Madeline make for a compelling story as well. Watson does a good job with dialogue, description and suspense.
Although Madeleine gets title billing, Watson does not try to tell the story from her point of view. Instead, we learn the story through Matthew’s eyes, seeing his emotions and fears. Because he learns what has happened to Madeleine slowly and after the fact, the story is more an unfolding mystery than a tale of action and high drama. This highly readable novel also offers thoughtful insights into the moral ambiguities of war.