History abounds with individuals who crossed-dressed for professional as well as personal reasons; however historical fiction generally limits itself to women dressing as men or to men dressing as women in theatrical situations. This book attempts to rectify the situation somewhat by presenting us with a hero who, at times reluctantly, dresses as a woman in order to carry out counter espionage missions. And a jolly thrilling romp it is too.
Briers Allerdale, the other hero of this story is a typical 1920s spy: suave, well-bred, and able to blend into almost any situation. He returns to London after three years in the Balkans to report on a particularly dangerous terrorist, who is now believed to be in London for purposes unknown – though almost certainly not good. Briers’ bosses have suspicions as to where the terrorist’s accomplice is hiding and have secured lodgings for Briers close by. Just to complicate matters, the household’s paying guests are restricted to married couples, and no female agents are available who possess suitable language skills to help Briers in his mission. Enter Miles – and his alter-ego Millie.
The son of a diplomat and the brother of another spy, Miles has generally been considered too small and delicate following long-lasting childhood illnesses to take part in field work himself, instead putting his knowledge of languages to good use in the cipher and translation department. At Cambridge, though, he was encouraged to increase his skills by taking part in amateur dramatics, showing a particular talent for female roles. Now he’s asked to play a female role again – away from the stage – something he’s done for his country before, but which concerns him since it adds to people’s impression of him as unable to stand up for himself.
Briers is sceptical about the plan at first, but soon sees how convincingly ordinary Millie is; a bigger concern for him as the mission begins is how attracted he is to Miles. The pair settle into their temporary accommodation and get to know their neighbours, most of whom are genuinely ordinary people with regular occupations. If the terrorists have chosen the location for their base because of one of the residents, it seems likely to be the up-and-coming politician living nearby – even though he is not yet important enough to be an obvious assassination target. The plan is that Miles – as Millie – watches the street during the day, while Briers – as the hardworking husband – goes out in search of further information until such time as the terrorists make their move or it becomes obvious what their plan might be.
Miles isn’t content to just sit around though, and while neither Briers nor Miles’ overprotective brother is keen for him to put himself in danger, he turns out to be a better spy than any of them expected – and perfectly capable of getting himself out of as well as into danger too.
I loved this book. All the characters felt very real, even those who make only brief appearances, and there are plenty of back stories connecting various of them to each other that I would love to read more about. Miles’ butler and his theatrical friend deserve their own book too. Highly recommended.
Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.
Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.
Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?
The clock is ticking.
Read an excerpt.