About six years ago I posted about Evelyn Anthony, one of my favourite authors who I read back in the sixties and seventies, and begged for them to be reprinted. Fast forward to 2016 and there they all are available for the Kindle generation. I could not be more pleased.
Before turning to spy and thriller writing, Evelyn Anthony wrote historical novels and it was these that initially caught my attention. Set in France, England, Scotland and Russia and all page turners, the one that really fascinated me was Victoria. This was published late 1950s and well before the biography of this Queeen by Elizabeth Longford which was a seminal work on this monarch and revealed the true love story between Victoria and Albert. Since then much has been written about them and though it appears they had the most spectacular rows and arguments (haven't we all,) but they also had a pretty good sex life and truly adored each other. In Evelyn Anthony's Victoria we find an Albert pretty well bludgeoned into marriage and unhappy all his life, always longing to return to his childhood home in Rosenau. This take on V&A was so unlike anything I had read before that the memory of this book is as vivid today as it was when I first read it. The recent television series about Victoria has aroused so much interest in this marvellous monarch and this book is worth reading because of its viewpoint which was plausible when it was written but not so much now.
Then she turned her attention to her spy/thriller novels and, good though the historical novels were, this is where she really hit her stride. All of them best sellers, she tapped into the Cold War atmosphere beautifully and cannily took advantage of the Burgess, Maclean, Philby scandals and the worry of whether there was a fourth or a fifth man (now we know there was).
Stella Rimington who, incidentally is appearing at the Felixstowe Book Festival this year (more of this anon), was head of MI6 or was it MI5? I can never tell the difference, sorry, has written several entertaining spy thrillers since her retirement about a female head of the service, Liz Caryle. Long gone are the days it seems when you had to keep quiet about your work in the intelligence service and you had to remain anonymous all your life. Judi Dench portrayed M in the Bond movies and there has been speculation about who she based her character on. I have read and enjoyed all these books and wonder if she has read the Evelyn Anthony books. There are similarities....
But before Stella, before M, there was Davina Graham. Evelyn Anthony's creation, the head of the Secret Service in the UK. There are four titles featuring Davina Graham and these titles chart Davina's work and home life over a period of some ten years and are amongst her best as we become involved with her and her family and her joys and sorrows, and also get annoyed with her selfish, self centred sister, Charley. In order they are The Defector, Avenue of the Dead, Albatross and The Company of Saints. They are very very good indeed full of double agents and defectors and moles in the service and when I first read them and was totally unaware of the twists and turns and betrayals I was left totally bamboozled by them. I can highly recommend them BUT these are books that MUST be read in order. Please do not be tempted to do otherwise. I note that you can buy all four Davina Graham titles as a package for your Kindle and think it is a worthwhile investment. I have read them all again over Christmas and the New Year and loved them all over again.
Then there are the titles which have a Second World War link and these are impeccably researched and written. The Poellenberg Inheritance, Voices on the Wind, the Rendezvous are amongst those I enjoyed, but the other day I was curled up in bed all morning as I read The Occupying Power for the umpteenth time. The story opens with the Comtesse de Barnard, living in grace and luxury in Paris, being visited by the wife of an enemy of the past and the story is then told in flashback by the Comtesse to her family. Gripping from start to finish. The village of St Blaize in rural France is home to a family who has lived there for generations, the current Count is married to an American, Louise, from whom he is estranged as his wife is shocked at his collaboration with the Germans who have set up a headquarters at a nearby Chateau. He wishes to keep the village safe until after the war, she despises him for his attitude. Into this setting comes an undercover agent who is there to carry out a mission which is vital to the outcome of the war. The previous agent had been betrayed by the village and handed over to the Germans, will the same happen now?
The blurb on the old paperback in my possession says 'The village of St Blaize was known for its willingness to co-operate its the Nazi conquerors. But in May 1944 the events of a few days changed the inhabitants from cowards to patriot and brought the full fury of the Death' Head Battalion of the SS onto St Blaize. Years later a woman appears, her heart set on revenge. The horror and anguish of the past must be lived again, the shameful secrets, the hidden loves and forbidden lusts long buried must be brought to light....."
OK that is a bit lurid and over the top and does the book a disservice, but if you can grab a copy of this you will not be disappointed.
I also sat and was enthralled all over again by The Tamarind Seed which I found still pretty tense and nail biting even though I knew the ending. When I first read it my initial reaction was what a great film it would make. Well, it was made into a film starring Julie Andrews and Omar Shariff. I will say no more.....just read the book.
I am on a binge read at the moment and this afternoon finished The Doll's House, one of her later books and slightly less interesting than her earlier ones. Those set outside the Intelligence Service or the Second World War are not as gripping though I will make an exception for the House of Vandekar, the story of an American Heiress who came to the UK and married a member of the aristocracy and lived in a wonderful house where she gave parties and was a great social hostess and political figure. At the beginning of this year I read all about Cliveden and Nancy Astor and realised on my re-read that the main protagonist in this particular Anthony title was based on Lady Astor. In this book she has a daughter called Nancy which is a hint and also an alcoholic son as did Lady Astor. Gave me a different slant on this book after all these years.
Evelyn Anthony's historical novels, including a Russian trilogy which I read when I was about sixteen, have always been favourites but it is her spy novels which stand out. As I said, before Stella and before M we had Davina Graham and she is a fantastic character.
Please do read them and, if you do, let me know what you think. Please.