The second novel from Cara Black featuring WWII sniper/assassin Kate Rees is just as nail-bitingly difficult to put down as the first book. Kate is getting her mojo back in Scotland, training recruits, when she’s whisked to London to renew her spycraft skills and get a new assignment. She’s given specific instructions, but little information. She’s to be sent to Paris with some penicillin, kill a target, extract an operative and return – within two days. Black gives the reader the full treatment on every step of Kate’s journey, so you are with her on the bumpy flight to Paris, the landing in a field, and her exhaustion as the finds her way to the city to begin her mission.
The book is full of twists, and Kate is never sure who she can trust. Things go wrong, her informers are not who she imagined they would be, and her extraction target is difficult to locate. She feels she owes the woman her life and is on this mission mostly because she feels she owes her this debt. As Kate is figuring out how to deliver the penicillin as well as the best way to take out her target – a high up Nazi official – Black also weaves in bits of Kate’s backstory.
She’d grown up on a farm with brothers, learning to shoot early. When she meets and marries her husband, only to lose him and her baby to a Nazi bomb, her mission to find and kill as many Nazis as she can is cemented. In this novel, it’s also tested, as she’s pushed to the limit of her ingenuity, courage, and energy. She makes up for lack of sleep by popping a Dexedrine every so often.
Never the less, she fulfills her mission, only to be left behind on the airstrip and told to report to a new mission in Cairo. The difference between Cairo and occupied Paris is striking – mostly because of attitude. In Paris, there’s resignation, as well as an underground resistance. In Cairo, the dread of Rommel and his troops swooping in to take the city is ever present, though the city seems to have a more languid air in general, perhaps because of the heat.
Kate is assigned a new target and when she’s dropped off, she’s reminded she’s expendable. This book is filled with beautifully written action set pieces, and the ones in Cairo are especially well done and original. I have read many, many books about WWII, but Black manages to make her subject fresh, and to give the reader a new take on the war by using a different point of view.
Kate also struggles throughout with double and even triple agents, making it very difficult to know who to trust. Her training has told her to trust no one and that seems to be her modus operandi, though she obviously has to trust different people throughout the book. The spycraft details are also quite interesting, tiny things I’d never heard or thought of. It makes the book both more specific and more memorable. This was a great read, impossible to put down. — Robin Agnew