Spy turned spymaster

William Boyd <i>Bloomsbury, 325pp, &#163;17.99</i>
ISBN 0747585717

Espionage novels set in the Second World War usually unfold across Paris and Berlin, Moscow or Lisbon. William Boyd's gripping, intelligent novel is set in New York, before the United States entered the war in 1941. The heroine of Restless is the deliciously named Eva Delectorskaya, a stunning (of course) 28-year-old half-Russian exile who is recruited to the bland-sounding British Security Coordination unit by Lucas Romer, a mysterious spymaster.
Delectorskaya is vividly drawn, reminiscent of Hope Clearwater, the heroine of Boyd's prize-winning Brazzaville Beach. Both are strong, passionate women, but also lonely and vulnerable. But Restless is more complex than a thrilling wartime spy story. It cuts back and forth between the Second World War and the 1970s when Eva – now known as Sally Gilmartin – hands her daughter, Ruth, a sheaf of papers that reveal her past as a wartime spy. But spy turns spymaster, as Eva dispatches Ruth on a mission – to find Romer. It is a journey, not just in search of her mother's former lover and boss, but also into Ruth's inner life.
The pleasure of a William Boyd novel is that his works enrich the reader as much as they entertain. He subtly poses the great questions about life, love and loyalty, and answers them with skill and sensitivity.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Nation of fools