Review: Assignment In Brittany – Helen MacInnes

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, World War II, Spies, France
Titan Books
First published: 2013
ISBN: 9781781161517
Pages: 320

From the cover:
Three hours ago he had stood on English earth.
Three hours ago he had been Martin Hearne…now he was Bertrand Corlay.
Martin Hearne had been summoned by military intelligence and given an important mission – enter Nazi-occupied France to gather information about German activities in the area. But to do so, Hearne must impersonate a Frenchman to whom he bears and uncanny resemblance, and that includes having to fool the women in Corlay’s life.
When it becomes clear that Corlay was not simply an innocent French civilian, Hearne finds himself playing an increasingly dangerous game to outwit his Nazi enemies.

A really quite excellent book. A slow discovery of whats going on, to who Bertrand Corlay is and what his world has been like when he wasn’t being impersonated by Martin Hearne. You could discuss how ‘the women in his life’ didn’t suspect there was suddenly an imposter in their midst…but then you are led to wonder, did they really not suspect? Some of them, anyway.

There is, as I’ve seen elsewhere, a great feeling of being ‘one step away from death.’ In that, at any moment, Hearne’s cover could be blown and there is no way he could get out of the situation he would then find himself in. But, he has his mission, and should he detach himself from the people and feelings of the village and concentrate himself on that maybe even at the cost of the villagers? He doesn’t ‘go native’ as I did wonder he might, he does keep his eye on the prize, but it is difficult and I felt he began to wonder if deceiving Anne Pinot, Corlay’s fiance wasn’t even for her own good, when he begins to realise what kind of a man Corlay was/had been.

It can seem like slow going at times, but perseverance pays off in the end, as all the character development make great sense when the tension is ratcheted up and great moral dilemmas present themselves.

The book seems to have been first published in 1943, so that’s in quite a tricky state of World War II for both Britain and France. I could well imagine the book being read as a pick me up and a ‘we can do this!’ by many people reading itat the time. Having said that, it doesn’t feel dated – as I might imagine the film would (I’ve not seen the film though) – it still feels like a well writtien spy novel, set in the Second World War and if you didn’t know, you could easily go with it having been written around the time the above pictured version was published in 2013.

You can Assignment In Brittany from The Book Depository

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