Book Review

City of Spies by Mara Timon

LISBON, 1943: When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe’s elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies. There she receives new orders – and a new identity.

Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed.

The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth’s resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission.

But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?

I don’t read a lot of spy / espionage fiction – it’s a genre that just doesn’t hold that much appeal.  That said, I was intrigued by Mara Timon’s debut, City of Spies, as soon as I heard about it, my interest piqued by the female protagonist, Elisabeth de Mornay – code name Cécile – and I was delighted to win a proof of the novel from the publisher, Zaffre Books, in a Twitter giveaway earlier this year.  And I really enjoyed it!  I loved the insight into the life of a female operative during World War II, and I found City of Spies to be an engaging and entertaining read.

Elisabeth / Cécile / Solange – as she becomes in Lisbon – is a fantastic character.  Her background makes her an ideal candidate for the role, having been estranged from her family due to her choice of husband, a man who later died when his submarine was bombed earlier in the war.  I loved seeing her at work throughout the novel – trying to work out who could be trusted, and how far, as well as puzzling out the smuggling operation that she stumbles across in her investigations.  She is bold and brave, and with just the right amount of recklessness to make her endearing.  She is entirely committed to the cause and willing to do whatever it takes, despite the danger inherent in her role.   

In the city of spies, no one is who they claim to be…

The plot is exciting and fast-paced throughout.  We first meet Cécile in Paris where she is on the run, her cover having been blown by an overly amorous neighbour whose affections were unwanted and unreturned.  From there, it’s a difficult journey with no small amount of hardship along the way, before she eventually lands in the ostensibly neutral Portugal.  Working with her godfather, Matthew Harrington, she poses as well to do French widow Solange Verin, and begins to mingle with the expats and locals in order to find out more about the German operations.  It’s a difficult role – and the supposed neutrality mean that anyone could be a spy for one side or another, and there are plenty there who have their own agenda. 

City of Spies is a very welcome addition to the espionage genre for me, and I enjoyed it much more than I have other novels of this kind.  It will be published on 17 September by Zaffre Books.


  1. This sounds like a really interesting book! I’m not a fan of WII historical fiction although spies and espionage have always fascinated me during this time period! Books about the holocaust as well. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m not a fan of WW2 fiction either, to be honest – I think that this one works well because of the supposedly neutral setting of Portugal…

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