After a run of great fantasy epics, it’s time to delve into the rain-slicked backstreets and dark smoky rooms of the spy thriller in this Wednesday’s One to Watch.
Cypher is set during World War 2, weeks before the allied invasion of France – when the fate of Europe, and perhaps the world, was still held in a precarious balance. Violet Wells has conjured a fantastic, flawed protagonist in her opening chapter. Jack Cave is a British fighter pilot, who appears to have enlisted under a false name picked from a gravestone, with the shameful legacy of a deserter father hanging round his neck.
Everywhere a fine balancing act is being pulled. The dialogue feels natural, relaxed – which is a very difficult trick to pull off. The setting is authentic without bogging the pace down in unnecessary historical detail – too many authors feel the need to show off just how much they’ve uncovered during their research for their book. Clichés are resisted at every turn. We find a Gestapo interrogator - who is disarmingly genteel and polite - and next an overweight, seedy French spymaster – who, the agent he flirts outrageously with tells us, is actually a genuine, decent man. Even our protagonist, the fighter pilot with the false name, is no tough James Bond type soldier – our introduction to Jack is his curt dismissal after ineptly crashing a Spitfire into an officers’ cocktail party.
It’s this constant bucking of cliché and reader expectations within a classic genre that keeps Cypher fresh and engaging. See if Violet’s pitch gets you as excited as us below:
“We know who you are pretending to be. But who are you really?”
During the Battle of Britain, Evie Devereux is a WT operator in the ops room of one of 11 Group’s sector airfields. Here she commences an affair with a Spitfire pilot. As the battle hots up the strain of worrying constantly for his safety becomes too much for her and she ostentatiously betrays him for another man. To push him away. A week later he is shot down and reported missing.
In 1943 she joins SOE and is parachuted into France. Here she meets up with her pilot boyfriend again. Both now have different identities.
The Spitfire pilot is Jack Cave whose working class father was shot as a deserter in the First World War. His heritage is the bane of his life. Never more so than when he falls in love with the aristocratic Evie. When he is forced to take on another man’s identity he feels finally liberated from his past. And then, trailed by the Gestapo, he meets Evie again.