Spies, Lies & Consequences
by Hugh Davies
(taken from NetGalley)
In the 1960s the UK Pharmacy chain – Boots the Chemist – as it was then known – operated a subscription lending library. A light romance book – titled The Sandy Shore – has many borrowers, some interesting, some dull. The book tells his own story and gives you snapshots of their lives as he sees them as borrowers. One borrower (Anne) buys it when the library closes in 1966. The character in the romance (Sandra) seeks new horizons in her fictional life and this resonates with Anne and she decides to do likewise in her real life. She awaits what chance serves up, like flotsam and jetsam on the shore where she lives in Pembrokeshire. She talks to Sandra as an intimate diary and to the book itself which, in her mind, becomes a personality (Book). An affair with an old boyfriend (Nelson) from Royal Navy days when she was a WRNS in a local naval station (Kete) has dramatic consequences.
The affair ends with an almighty bust-up when she realises he is as rotten as her navy friend naughty Christina always said he was. There is then a long period of normality and she continues as a normal happily married woman. However, the past has a habit of catching up with you and does so half a lifetime later with dramatic consequences for Anne and for Book. He ends up in the mansion library of the Bletchley Park museum, where Anne’s mother had worked during WW2 when it was an ultra-top secret code-breaking operation. From his library shelf, Book ponders on the shattering events he has witnessed and wonders how it will end. After all – who knows what tomorrow may bring?
I found the premise of this book to be very original and, as a result, had very high hopes for a great story. Looking back, I suppose the story was only ever going to be descriptive narrative, a one-sided view of the world surrounding the ‘Book’ – after all, a book cannot interact with the characters, it cannot provoke a reaction or change the course of events. It can merely report on what it ‘sees’ or ‘hears’. For me, this book had a few episodes of worthy interest, you might even say there was an element of page-turning pace about it, but these intervals were too infrequent and I found myself skipping through whole chunks of descriptions in an effort to get back to the plot. It is clearly apparent that the author has a great love for the Pembrokeshire area of Wales, and he informs us at great length about the scenery, the history and even the local dialect – but it was too much for my taste and at times felt more like a tourist information guide than a work of fiction.
The spy element of the story is rather tame, in comparison to many others of its genre, maybe it is a more realistic of how spies really operated, but it did not hold my attention as I would have hoped. Seeing all the events unfold through the eyes of a book, meant that there was quite a lot that had to be imagined or presumed a prior knowledge. Whilst using your imagination is by no means detrimental to the story, I did find that sometimes I was definitely not on the same wavelength that the author intended.
I found parts of the book to be quite boring and repetitive, with very little happening, other than the ‘Book’ being left ‘home alone’ or ‘in a bag on a train’ and thus unable to add anything of interest to the tale. The spy scene, whereby a group of males spies were using a dating agency as a cover, and using female names to boot, seemed a bit flimsy and dull. Their meeting on board a ship in Norway was, regrettably, slow, tedious and too drawn out. Even after all of the introductions – virtually just a list of different men from various countries, using typical names to represent their nationality – what happened thereafter simply didn’t manifest itself within the story. There were a lot of loose ends that were not resolved and left me feeling more than a little cheated. To top it all, the promise of greater things to come when the book arrived at Bletchley Park, was merely a subterfuge, as the ‘Book’ found its place on a shelf, able to view the wonderfully infamous machinery that now sat in the museum!!!!!
Although, Anne’s story – as she recounted it to the ‘Book’ – was mostly interesting, funny and quite daring, her sudden demise came out of the blue and her theories about the dating agency, although proven to be correct, were not fully explored or explained in any great detail. What was a very original idea, that showed such encouraging signs for a fascinating read, failed to meet my expectations and left me feeling as though I had wasted my precious reading time.
I’ll certainly be more choosy in future 😦