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Trapeze [Kindle Edition]

Simon Mawer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A propulsive novel of World War II espionage by the author of New York Times best seller The Glass Room.

Barely out of school and doing her bit for the British war effort, Marian Sutro has one quality that makes her stand out—she is a native French speaker. It is this that attracts the attention of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive, which trains agents to operate in occupied Europe. Drawn into this strange, secret world at the age of nineteen, she finds herself undergoing commando training, attending a “school for spies,” and ultimately, one autumn night, parachuting into France from an RAF bomber to join the WORDSMITH resistance network.
   But there’s more to Marian’s mission than meets the eye of her SOE controllers; her mission has been hijacked by another secret organization that wants her to go to Paris and persuade a friend—a research physicist—to join the Allied war effort. The outcome could affect the whole course of the war.
   A fascinating blend of fact and fiction, Trapeze is both an old-fashioned adventure story and a modern exploration of a young woman’s growth into adulthood. There is violence, and there is love. There is death and betrayal, deception and revelation. But above all there is Marian Sutro, an ordinary young woman who, like her real-life counterparts in the SOE, did the most extraordinary things at a time when the ordinary was not enough.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2012: When Marian Sutro is recruited by the Special Operations Executive to become a British spy in Nazi-occupied France, she views it as an adventure—a reason to return to her beloved Paris. It quickly becomes apparent that this won’t be a vacation, however, when in training she learns different ways to kill men and is given a cyanide pill to hide in her jacket. And then her first mission becomes two missions--one of which she has to hide from her own team. As Marian—or is it Ann-Marie? Or Alice?—goes deeper undercover, things begin to unravel around her, forcing her to make difficult, life-altering choices. Trapeze is a smart, well-paced spy thriller based on the true, extraordinary story of the SOE recruiting French-speaking British women during World War II to go undercover. Marian’s journey from a young naïve school-girl to a cunning spy is well-developed and realistic, making her a memorable heroine. --Caley Anderson
A Letter from the Author
Inspiration for Trapeze
In the five years of its existence, the British Special Operations Executive trained and dispatched thousands of agents to work behind enemy lines in almost every theatre of war, from Europe to South East Asia. Living a clandestine life under false identities these men and women were not spies. The role of SOE was destruction, not intelligence--in the famous words of Winston Churchill, they were to “set Europe ablaze”.

Since the war particular SOE exploits have gained much attention – the attack on the Norwegian heavy water plant in Rjukan and the assassination of Heydrich in Prague being among the best known – but it is surely the French operations which capture the imagination, and in particular, the story of the women agents of F Section. Among the western Allies these were the only women to be trained for combat and between 1941 and 1944 fifty women agents of F Section were infiltrated into France. They ranged from the middle-aged to the barely out of school, and covered all manner of types, from Princess Noor Inayat Khan, daughter of an Indian Sufi mystic, to Violette Szabo, a working class cockney girl who was wife of a French Foreign Legionnaire and was a dead shot in fairground shooting ranges. But many were just ordinary women who by accident of birth happened to possess one distinguishing feature: they spoke fluent French.

Their stories of the clandestine life are as varied as the women themselves but my personal interest goes back to one woman’s story, that of Anne-Marie Walters. I was about ten when my mother passed the book on to me. Battered and well-thumbed and missing its spine, it stands on my bookshelf as I write. The title is Moondrop to Gascony and it recounts, in vivid first person, the experiences of the author after she was recruited by SOE in 1943. The reason for my mother’s interest was that at the time of her recruitment Anne-Marie was a WAAF (member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), serving alongside my mother at Fighter Command HQ in Stanmore just north of London.

Even my father had a connection to this intrepid young woman. During the war he had been a pilot on an RAF special operations squadron flying from Algeria. The role of this squadron was to supply arms and agents to resistance groups in southern Europe. As Anne-Marie’s network, code-named WHEELWRIGHT, operated in the southwest of France, it is almost certain that my father dropped supplies to her and her companions.

My parents never met up with Anne-Marie after the war--she spent most of her life in France and Spain working as an editor and translator--so my personal connection was always at one remove: being captivated, for as long as I can remember, by the book itself, Anne-Marie Walters’s own remarkable story, narrated with a young woman's élan but tempered with a mature, objective honesty. SOE agents used a field name when they were on operations. Hers was Colette; it is to Colette that I have dedicated my own celebration of the women of SOE.


“A fascinating WWII novel based in fact…Coming-of-age story meets old-fashioned tale of adventure.” –Publishers Weekly
“Much-lauded British author Mawer vividly describes the deprivations in a war occupied country and its once-vibrant capital and provides testimony to the courage of countless members of the French Resistance. But this is primarily a masterfully crafted homage to the 53 extraordinary women of the French section of the SOE on whose actual exploits the novel is based.  With its lyrical yet spare prose and heart-pounding climax, this is a compelling historical thriller of the highest order.” –Booklist (starred review) 

"The book is full of the fascinating minutiae of espionage–aircraft drops, code-cracking, double agents, scrambled radio messages.  There's a romance, too, though Mawer isn't one to dwell on his characters' inner lives, and Marian, who is "trained to keep secrets," remains frustratingly unknowable.  Still, Mawer exhibits a great feeling for suspence, and produces memorable episodes in dark alleyways, deserted cafes, and shadowy corners of Père Lachaise" –The New Yorker

“Incorporating many of the finest elements of spy thrillers and even romance novels, Trapeze is a fascinating tale of and homage to the resistance fighters and members of the SOE.” –New York Journal of Books

“Like the best historical fiction, the book is very much of its intended time, full of clandestine tidbits and Churchillian attitude, but not to the exclusion of the human elements that are required of any compelling story.” –The Daily Beast
Trapeze sets a thriller-like pace, and Mawer writes compellingly about the deprivations of wartime France as well as the everyday dangers of occupied Paris…Though very much a story about the intricacies of the spy network, Trapeze is also about a young woman who is called upon to do something extraordinary and is thus forever changed.” –Bookpage
“Where his last Booker-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, gave an expansive overview of a whole country over the course of 50 years, Mawer’s latest is a more intense and tightly-focused story. Radiating an atmosphere of tense suspicion and claustrophobia, it is utterly gripping from start to finish.” –Daily Mail (UK)
“In this literary thriller, inspired by real female agents during WWII, an Englishwoman is recruited into a dangerous espionage mission.” –Karen Holt, O Magazine

“Simon Mawer is an elegant writer and a meticulous researcher…[Trapeze] combines a stirring adventure with a potent reflection on the allure of desire, duty and danger.” –London Evening Standard (UK)
“Mawer’s representations of England and France — both rural and urban — are at once eerily quiet and bustling with confusion, as he illustrates the fateful moments in a war and in a young woman’s life.” –Historical Novel Society
“Mawer's crisp prose, erudite science and subtle bilingual details raise Trapeze above the genre riff-raff.” –Shelf Awareness

“There are many shades of Graham Greene here…[Trapeze] delivers its story with the same delicate, stropped-razor deadliness that creeps up on you like Harry Lime in the shadows, nastily irresistible.” –Financial Times
“Readers will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman’s path to maturity.” –The Columbus Dispatch

“Readers who empathize with Marian, and many will, will be stunned as they read the final pages of this fast-paced and exhilarating historical novel about a young woman's path to maturity” –Shelf Awareness
“A brilliant and engaging blend of fact and fiction, this novel will hook readers from the start and amaze them with a story of adventure, betrayal, growing into adulthood and love.” –KSL
“In a perfect combination of intrigue, romance, betrayal and incredible bravery, Mawer has, once again, as he did in The Glass Room, told a story that is factual and fictional with the edges blurred just so.” –Seattle Times
" a stark, focused adventure...[a] skillfully and intelligently executed thriller." –Washington Post

"Trapeze…is a stark, focused adventure…Although narrower in scope than Mawer's earlier work, Trapeze is no less rich and provocative. And in Marian he's created a marvelous heroine.” –Newday

Product Details

  • File Size: 1146 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00GQ0Z2J2
  • Publisher: Other Press (May 1, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005MU3V7W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,701 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Plenty of novelists have tackled the irresistibly suspenseful material that World War II espionage offers, and many of them have honed in on the activities of the women of the French section of the SOE, the ultra-secret group assigned by Churchill to "set Europe ablaze". Off the top of my head, I can bring to mind novels by Evelyn Anthony, Ted Allebury, Elizabeth Buchan, Larry Collins -- and those are just books I read back in the 1980s. And yet, despite the fact that real-life chronicles and novels have been based on these tales since the end of the war in 1945, Simon Mawer shows that there's room for more.

What he brings to to the familiar territory of the SOE's operations in France is a great narrative style and tremendous ability in bringing to life characters whose objectives and convictions aren't always clear even to themselves, and who experience fear and terror rather than posturing bravely in the manner of a golden era movie hero or heroine. Marian Sutro, recruited because of her ability to speak French like a native and dispatched to work with an SOE circuit in the southwest of France, is often terrified and battles nightmares about falling through the air -- just as she did in real life when she arrived via parachute. When she is dispatched to Paris on a special assignment for a rival espionage organization, fear turns to terror, all the more acute because the physical landscape of Paris so familiar to her and yet simultaneously nightmarishly different. Mawer's descriptions were so vivid that I found my own breathing becoming more rapid and my palms damp as Marian negotiates her way through the Parisian streets, at first haunted by a sense of unease and later trying to dodge pursuit.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By Cynthia
I enjoyed this book immensely. "Trapeze" centers around a young English woman, Marian Sutro, who's recruited to be a spy embedded in France. Marian is the daughter of an English diplomat and a French woman. She grows up in Switzerland where her father is stationed. She's the adored younger sister of a brilliant scientist brother. She's also adored by and adoring of her brother's fellow scientist Clement. Mawer quickly catches the romance of the times as well as the danger and horror. Marian goes on a crash course as one of only two women who are learning skills that will keep them alive in France and that will enable them to help the French continue their resistance. She learns that a momentary loss of awareness could cost her her life as well as the lives of the people she's trying to help. She lives in fear. Mawer is skilled at setting impactful scenes with few words. Marian's thoughts and predicament seem very real and Mawer's attention to details is exquisite. You'll feel like you're walking the dangerous war time Paris streets right next to Marian.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publishers.

Interestingly Mawer briefly ties in Leo Marks' work as presented in Marks' fascinating nonfiction work "Between Silk and Cyanide: a Code Makers War"*. Marks' book is understandable to the layman and tremendously humorous while still being, literally, deadly serious.

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yet Again May 4, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Simon Mawer has always been able to tell a good story. His plots flow well, his descriptions are evocative, and his characters are engaging. But he is best when he has something else to add, as in MENDEL'S DWARF, which jumps to and fro between two different centuries, or THE GLASS ROOM, which takes place in a single house but over a century's span. His latest, TRAPEZE, is another story well told, but it treads familiar ground and has very little new to add.

The setting is WW2. The heroine, Marian Sutro (though she goes by many different names in the course of the novel), is young, beautiful, and bilingual, born of an English father and a French mother. Although barely out of school, she gets recruited by British Intelligence for training as a spy, and is parachuted into the southwest of France to help organize the resistance in that region, with the additional mission of contacting a French nuclear physicist in Paris to persuade him to come to Britain. The hook is that the scientist, Clément Pelletier, is an old childhood friend to whom she had a strong emotional attachment. For more even than being a spy story, TRAPEZE is a romance, as Marian must weigh her lingering crush on Clément against her first physical experience with a fellow agent in the south.

Why did Mawer, who is usually a much more sophisticated author, chose this subject? I seem to have been reading such books almost since WW2 ended; the most recent is CHARLOTTE GRAY by Sebastian Faulks, another spy romance of a very similar character.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Spies! Resistance Fighters!
I love World War II stories, especially about spies and resistance fighters. This one had a great heroine and kept my attention til the end. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story set in a fascinating venue - war time ...
Good story set in a fascinating venue - war time France. It is a story of the heroics of the Resistance but also a portrait of a young woman learning about life, herself, love and... Read more
Published 18 days ago by JK Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A good writer, that's all.
Published 22 days ago by e roberts
3.0 out of 5 stars London WWII: Would you be willing to risk your life to help stop the...
Marian Sutro would. Being bilingual, she is recruited to for a special mission—to train in espionage and aid the French Resistance. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Shuffy2
5.0 out of 5 stars most exciting, read it for second time.
Couldn't put it down. Loved the characters and the writing, might even read it again. Learned a lot about the resistance, such brave people.
Published 3 months ago by Lois Gallea
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting historical Novel
Easy read, just did not have the punch I thought it was going to have. Felt it coming at any moment, but it did not appear. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. G
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Superb craftsmanship.
Published 3 months ago by Paul E Christensen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It's hard to believe there were women bold enough to undertake these dangerous challanges.
Published 4 months ago by herbert emerson
4.0 out of 5 stars slow start but overall good read
Started out slow, but the tension grew and drew me in. Enjoyed the twists & turns and the surprise ending.
Published 4 months ago by Chris Hayes
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Judith L. Long
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More About the Author

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England, and spent his childhood there, in Cyprus and in Malta. Educated at Millfield School in Somerset and at Brasenose College, Oxford, he took a degree in biology and worked as a biology teacher for many years. His first novel, Chimera, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1989, winning the McKitterick Prize for first novels. Mendel's Dwarf (1997), his first book to be publish in the US, reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Time "Book to Remember" for 1998. The Gospel of Judas, The Fall (winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature) and Swimming to Ithaca followed. In 2009 The Glass Room, his tenth book and eighth novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Since then he has published Trapeze (The Girl Who Fell From The Sky in Britain) and readers can expect a sequel, entitled Tightrope, early in 2015.

Mawer is married and has two children. He has lived in Italy for the past thirty years.

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