This is a Cold War spy story set in 1972, told from the first person perspective of Serena Frome, a struggling maths student (in her final year at Cambridge) with a passion for literature. Unknowingly, she is being groomed for the British Secret Service, a career move that will take her into a world of deceit, trust, mistrust, cloak and daggers, and betrayal.
It’s not the typical spy story because the central part is about Operation Sweet Tooth, the objective being to get an author onside to generate material that puts forward a more Whitehall sympathetic view of the world. So, Frome’s relationship with Tom Haley, a promising young writer, takes center stage. It’s her first undercover operation. How will she perform?
The author has a lot of fun with the mix of espionage and literature, setting up some jokes and digs that better read people than me will get more out of. I found some of the literary stuff – samples of Haley’s writing, for example – to be tedious. Maybe that was intentional. But generally, the story races along and does a decent job of entertaining. It’s well written (apart from Haley’s stuff), intelligent, and sometimes thoughtful. Overall: interesting.