I am embarking on a re-read of the novels of Evelyn Anthony. They are nearly all out of print as far as I can see which I think is a great shame as they are all well written and exciting. Authors who I used to love as a teenager are gradually reappearing, Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy and Mary Stewart to name but three, and I do wish some publishing house would re-issue these.
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.
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). There are four titles featuring Davina Graham who worked for M15 and who was responsible for dealing with a defector from the USSR, withg whom she falls in love. 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.
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 amongs 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 bought five of her titles in a second hand bookshop last week and they are all available in various editions and prices on Amazon. If you do decide to get hold of any of them, as well as The Occupying Power which I think is one of her best, may I recommend The Tamarind Seed which is about a traitor at the heart of the British Establishment and nail biting stuff. Dreadful film starring Julie Andrews and Omar Shariff of this is just not worth bothering with. Dire.
Please some good kind publisher out there, pick these up and run with them - I am sure they will be a smash hit.
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