Marian jumps at the chance to join the SOE, even though it's not at all clear to her what the agency is, or what, exactly, they want from her. She's just looking forward to be doing something exciting for the war effort. In the first part of the book, Marian is recruited and sent off to her training, which includes coding and decoding messages, armed and unarmed combat, stealth killing and explosives. Oh, yes, and a parachuting course, so that the agents can be dropped by moonlight into occupied France. We meet Marian's upper-crusty superiors and her more down-to-earth trainers and fellow agents. Other trainees include the charming and lively Benoit, with whom she begins a relationship, and Yvette, a nervy widow and mother of a young child, who constantly worries she will wash out of the SOE without having a chance to return to her native France.
|Noor Inayat Khan, SOE agent|
Marian's training description in Trapeze reminded me of similar scenes in William Boyd's Restless, with its Eva/Sally character. Their training experiences were remarkably similar, and both had a tough-minded determination to get on with the job.
The action of the plot moves from the Olympic Games (including a description of Jesse Owens's spectacular long jump win and his surprisingly warm reception by the largely German stadium crowd) to the streets and nightclubs of Berlin, a party at the home of notorious Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, the famed Tiergarten and, most spectacularly, the zeppelin Hindenburg.
Some of the French have already succumbed, willingly, to what they see as inevitable. Businessmen openly admire the new Germany and use their connections with certain newspapers to propagandize in favor of authoritarianism, falsely positing that anything to the left of that is equivalent to the menace of bolshevism. Too many politicians and bureaucrats are also ready to accept Germany's domination of Europe.
Many of France's refugees, on the other hand, are too well acquainted with the Third Reich to be anything but frightened for the future of Europe and themselves. Embassy and intelligence personnel from other countries, stationed in Paris, anxiously monitor developments and prepare for the worst.
|Coco Chanel collaborated with the Nazi occupiers|
When courting is followed by pressure and threats by Germany's agents to get Stahl to act, essentially, as a celebrity supporter of the Reich, Stahl decides to become a player on the other side of the intelligence and influence war being waged.
In some ways, this book also reminded me of William Boyd's Restless. Not, as with Trapeze, in the part about the agent's training, but in the story of an agent engaged in pre-war intelligence; in Restless, a female agent working in the US for Britain, trying to move the US away from isolationism. I recommend both books for fascinating views of how war works before the shots are fired.
Note: I was given advance reading copies of Flight from Berlin (available July 10) and Mission to Paris (available June 10) for review. Parts of my review here appear under my Amazon user name on the Amazon product pages.