Friday, 12 February 2016
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
review by Maryom
Simon Callington is an minor bureaucrat at the Admiralty, working with sensitive 'official secrets' documents though not at the 'top secret' level. He plods along as anyone might at any old office job, but then an old friend is hospitalised and calls on Simon to do him a favour.... which will land him in far more trouble than he can imagine. For, unknown to Simon, that old friend Giles has been passing secrets to the Russians, and the favour involves returning a 'top secret' file that should never have left the Admiralty offices. Before long Simone finds himself arrested on a charge of spying, and his wife Lily is left with three children to look after, the press hounding them and in fear of what may happen next.
Set in London in 1960, Exposure is an unusual spy-thriller - almost, I'd say, one for readers who don't normally like the genre. It's not about cloak and dagger secrecy, dead-letter boxes and coded messages but the human cost particularly to people who innocently get caught up in events. Giles' unfortunate accident behaves like a pebble thrown into a pond, though not only sending ripples out across it but raking up all the mud from the bottom too. For all three have secrets they've kept well-hidden; obviously Giles' espionage activities, but also Simon's relationship with him, dating back to university days, which if exposed could cause at least as much trouble for both of them; and for Lily, it's her secret struggle as a Jewish refugee from Germany, trying to fit in and become as English as possible but still holding a fear of authority and a gut feeling that the only person you can rely on to protect you, is yourself. Of the three, Lily turns out to be the strong one.
Giles is essentially a risk-taker and gambler, both professionally and personally, maybe even thriving on danger - but he's become sloppy over time and his past is about to catch up with him.
Simon is the sort of man who drifts through life and has things happen TO him, rather than make them happen. He drifts into an illicit love affair with Giles, drifts again into marriage and fatherhood, and now he's drifted unthinkingly into the middle of a spying scandal.
Lily though, following her mother's example, believes in taking things into her own hands. She isn't prepared to just rely on Simon's upper-class family to come to her aid but puts measures in place herself - and (without spoiling the ending I hope), it's fair to say that it's Lily's actions which save her, Simon and their family.
As an unusual twist on a familiar scenario, I really enjoyed this, and would definitely recommend to readers who normally shun the 'spy' genre.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Hutchinson
Genre - adult, spy thriller, psychological thriller,