Joan Stanley has a secret.
She is a loving mother, a doting grandmother, and leads a quiet, unremarkable life in the suburbs. Then one morning there is a knock on the door, and suddenly the past she has been so keen to hide for the last fifty years threatens to overturn her comfortable world.
Cambridge University in 1937 is awash with ideas and idealists, yet unworldly Joan feels better suited to a science lecture and a cup of cocoa. But a chance meeting with the glamorous Russian-born Sonya and her charismatic cousin Leo blurs the edges of the things Joan thought she knew about the world, and about herself.
In the post-War world of smoke and mirrors, allegiance is a slippery thing. Working in a government ministry with access to top-secret information, Joan is suddenly faced with the most difficult question of all: what price would you pay to remain true to what you believe? Would you betray your country, your family, even the man you love?
The blurb on the front cover of Red Joan says "A gripping, emotional and expertly plotted spy novel of the Cold War". It is indeed that and so much more. Before I get into my review I will break the suspense and say that this was quite simply a superb book and I loved it!
Generally spy novels - well I am pretty sure all the spy novels I have read previously actually - are written by men and are about men and as such take a masculine angle that often is, even if well written, still just a bit of a mans book. This book is just a breath of fresh air in comparison. Written by a women and about a women it automatically is going to appeal to both the male and female reader alike but what takes this book to great heights on my list of best books to read is that is so incredibly well written and the plot is just gripping.
This story is based on real events which in itself makes it a fascinating read as you know that this isn't just a 'what if' story but is based on events that actually occurred with real people. The author has chosen to write this book from the view of Joan who is the central character. She has interwoven this story from the present when Joan is first being interviewed in her eighties by 'security services' about whether she was a spy in the Cold War. Joan's story unfolds using flashbacks and reminisces of Joan's former life but is done so expertly that right up to the end I was still wondering just how the story would end. Jennie Rooney manages such a gripping story by simple techniques such as Joan's husband only ever being referred to as "he". By not using his name the suspense continues and there are several surprises along the way.
I was absolutely captivated by this book and stayed awake too late on many nights reading "just one more page" as I couldn't close the book.
Even if you have never enjoyed a spy story this book might well be a very pleasant surprise. I was almost disappointed when it ended as I had enjoyed reading it so much. A very well written book with a fantastic plot and a very well executed story.
This is definitely a book I would recommend if you have any interest in history, the war or just a good ole complex love affair. Jennie Rooney thank-you so much for writing this book (and telling a story that really is amazing) and for writing it so well! 10/10.
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