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A twisting, sophisticated World War II novel following a spy who goes undercover as a part of MI5—in chasing the secrets of others, how much will she lose of herself? Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest famili A twisting, sophisticated World War II novel following a spy who goes undercover as a part of MI5—in chasing the secrets of others, how much will she lose of herself? Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest families. In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit. A ruthless secret society seeks an alliance with Germany and, posing as a Nazi sympathizer, Evelyn must build a case to expose their treachery. But as she is drawn deeper into layers of duplicity—perhaps of her own making—some of those closest to her become embroiled in her investigation. With Evelyn’s loyalties placed under extraordinary pressure, she’ll face an impossible choice: save her country or the people who love her. Her decision echoes for years after the war, impacting everyone who thought they knew the real Evelyn Varley. Beguiling and dark, An Unlikely Spy is a fascinating story of deception and sacrifice, based on the history of real people within the British intelligence community.


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A twisting, sophisticated World War II novel following a spy who goes undercover as a part of MI5—in chasing the secrets of others, how much will she lose of herself? Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest famili A twisting, sophisticated World War II novel following a spy who goes undercover as a part of MI5—in chasing the secrets of others, how much will she lose of herself? Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest families. In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit. A ruthless secret society seeks an alliance with Germany and, posing as a Nazi sympathizer, Evelyn must build a case to expose their treachery. But as she is drawn deeper into layers of duplicity—perhaps of her own making—some of those closest to her become embroiled in her investigation. With Evelyn’s loyalties placed under extraordinary pressure, she’ll face an impossible choice: save her country or the people who love her. Her decision echoes for years after the war, impacting everyone who thought they knew the real Evelyn Varley. Beguiling and dark, An Unlikely Spy is a fascinating story of deception and sacrifice, based on the history of real people within the British intelligence community.

30 review for An Unlikely Spy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mandy White (mandylovestoread)

    I have recently discovered that I enjoy historical fiction and The Imitator sounded like a book that could get lost in. While the story was interesting and different I didn’t love it, but you cannot love all the books all the time. The main character, Evelyn, was a smart and capable woman. She manages to win a scholarship to an elite boarding school where she makes the right connections. Tired of working jn a store on the brink of WWII, she uses who she knows and ends up working for the war offic I have recently discovered that I enjoy historical fiction and The Imitator sounded like a book that could get lost in. While the story was interesting and different I didn’t love it, but you cannot love all the books all the time. The main character, Evelyn, was a smart and capable woman. She manages to win a scholarship to an elite boarding school where she makes the right connections. Tired of working jn a store on the brink of WWII, she uses who she knows and ends up working for the war office and MI5 as a spy on England’s enemies. I struggled with the jumping back and forth of timelines and long chapters. I could not warm to Evelyn at all and her way she dealt with things. Thanks to Allen and Unwin for sending this book to me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Smith

    ‘It was during those cold mornings that Evelyn learnt that truth was found at the edges of people…’ I enjoyed this novel far more than I expected, and that’s not at all because my expectations were low, rather, the novel itself was just so much deeper and more insightful on a level I wasn’t anticipating. The era it deals with is at the beginning of WWII, during a phase sometimes referred to as ‘the phony war’. Evelyn is recruited into MI5 to infiltrate an underground movement of Nazi sympathisers ‘It was during those cold mornings that Evelyn learnt that truth was found at the edges of people…’ I enjoyed this novel far more than I expected, and that’s not at all because my expectations were low, rather, the novel itself was just so much deeper and more insightful on a level I wasn’t anticipating. The era it deals with is at the beginning of WWII, during a phase sometimes referred to as ‘the phony war’. Evelyn is recruited into MI5 to infiltrate an underground movement of Nazi sympathisers. While this novel is on the one hand a suspenseful thriller filled with spies and double crossing, it’s also a deeply affecting character study of a woman caught between lives. I really loved it, the literary aspect gripping me even more than the suspense. ‘Evelyn thought about her own mother standing at the kitchen sink, the slope of her shoulders, that fragile bun. She could see the course of their estrangement like footprints trailing down the hallway and out the front door, but for once it didn’t feel as though she had done something wrong.’ Evelyn is a woman who is no stranger to making herself into someone new for whatever the situation requires. She does this from a young age in boarding school and continues on from there. She is, in essence, the perfect person to become a spy. Evelyn herself is thrilled with the opportunity, feels she is not only doing something exciting as a job but also making a worthwhile contribution to the war effort. But of course, nothing is ever as it seems on the surface, and there is a cost to this type of job, an impact upon her life that she could not possibly have foreseen. The experience of being a spy was different for women, there was a particular pressure to use your ‘feminine charm’ to ingratiate yourself. There was also a particular tendency for women to get thrown under the bus when everything went pear shaped. I appreciated the subtle ways in which this was conveyed throughout the narrative. There was a great deal implied with a minimum degree of obviousness. ‘Truth didn’t matter. These people had come because they knew they would have their insane beliefs confirmed.’ For those who know Evelyn, she is something of an enigma. Considered cold and standoffish, but with an obvious intelligence that makes her appealing. She is also attractive, not beautiful enough to be threatening, but pretty enough to draw interest. I really felt for Evelyn though, out of necessity she kept people at arms-length, but it eventually became par for the course and so normal for her that she was unable to allow people in. The characteristics of being a spy eventually became so ingratiated that they disabled her from being a normal person again long after she had ceased to be a spy. I loved the way this was explored on such a deep and meaningful level, and it was this aspect of the novel overall that appealed to me the most and kept me enthralled. I’ve always loved novels that dive deep into their characters, turning them inside out and exposing their most inner thoughts. ‘If I were to disappear, she thought, the world would continue just as it always has. Nothing would change. I would have never made an imprint. I would never be remembered. But she also knew if she kept living like this she would disappear anyway. Dwindle, reduce, evaporate. She could already feel herself diminishing. It had been gradual, wearing her away like the sea against rock.’ The writing throughout this novel is sublime. Moments of pure poetry with stunning visualisation attached to the descriptions of emotions. While the author is not new to writing, this is her first novel, and as far as first novels go, it’s impressive and also exciting; I look forward to reading further novels by her. The Imitator is recommended to fans of literary historical fiction and lovers of thought provoking and deeply insightful novels. Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Imitator for review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    That cover grabbed me and the gorgeously written narrative kept me rapt ‘til the end. Yes, this is another WWII novel with spies but its execution and well developed characters elevate it. What does it cost the soul to be a good spy? Read on! 4 of 5 Stars Pub Date 01 Jun 2021 #AnUnlikelySpy #NetGalley Thanks to the author, Ecco, and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maine Colonial

    I received a free publisher's advance review copy, via Netgalley. For the first almost two years of World War II in Europe, before Hitler made the colossal error of going to war against the USSR, there were realistic fears in Britain that Germany would invade. Some right-wing Britons even welcomed the possibility, including the influential members of the secret society called the Right Club. The Right Club was rabidly antisemitic and favored appeasement The head of the Right Club was Archibald Ram I received a free publisher's advance review copy, via Netgalley. For the first almost two years of World War II in Europe, before Hitler made the colossal error of going to war against the USSR, there were realistic fears in Britain that Germany would invade. Some right-wing Britons even welcomed the possibility, including the influential members of the secret society called the Right Club. The Right Club was rabidly antisemitic and favored appeasement The head of the Right Club was Archibald Ramsay, a Conservative Member of Parliament. Club members often met at the Russian Tea Room in South Kensington, hosted by Anna Wolkoff, a Russian whose family had fled the Russian Revolution. The Right Club passed government secrets to the German government, including documents from the American Embassy provided by a cipher clerk there named Tyler Kent. Unbeknownst to the members of the Right Club, the British intelligence agency MI5 had infiltrated it with a number of agents, including a beautiful young woman named Joan Miller. Now I’m going to include a sentence about how that operation went. I’ll mark it with spoiler tags, since it’s also part of the plot of this book. (view spoiler)[The work of Joan Miller and other agents led to the arrest and imprisonment of Anna Wolkoff, Tyler Kent, Archibald Ramsay and the quashing of the Right Club’s subversive efforts. (hide spoiler)] This novel fictionalizes the story of Joan Miller and the Right Club. The book’s main character, Evelyn Varley, is from a working-class family and wins a scholarship to a posh boarding school, where she makes every effort to fit in with the snobbish girls, but is fortunate to win the true friendship of one of them, who makes her a friend of her family. Evelyn meets more influential people when she attends Oxford and studies German. Like Joan Miller, after school Evelyn works at a cosmetics firm in London, is recruited by British intelligence and becomes part of a team battling internal subversion. She works on several cases, but spends months infiltrating and earning the trust of the members of the Right Club, especially Nina Ivanova (Anna Wolkoff). Rebecca Starford dramatizes the intrigue of the Right Club operation fleshes out her main character to make us understand the complex emotions of a young woman who, even before her intelligence career, had to become a different person to fit in. I would say that this isn’t an espionage novel of the thriller type, though it certainly has its moments of tension and drama. Instead, it is more of a character study of the loneliness—even alienation—of the spy. One of the things I like most about espionage fiction is the psychic toll on a spy of pretending to be a different person. It can amount to a betrayal of oneself and sometimes one’s past, family and friends. And when the agent is asked to spend long periods of time infiltrating a group, she necessarily must betray people she has come to know and perhaps care about. The result of the spy role is necessarily loneliness, at least of the soul, and often psychic trauma. While I sometimes felt Evelyn is so reticent a character that she’s hard to figure out, I still admired and enjoyed the story and Starford’s handling of Evelyn’s complex position, the terrible decisions she had to make, and the emotional aftermath. I think it would be helpful to do a little reading on the Right Club and the MI5 operation against it before reading this book. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it may provide helpful context that will enrich the story as you read. The book is mostly set during 1939 and 1940, with a small handful of short chapters looking at Evelyn’s life in 1948. Once I’d finished the book, it was illuminating to go back and read the 1948 chapters again.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    That cover grabbed me and the gorgeously written narrative kept me rapt ‘til the end. Yes, this is another WWII novel with spies but its execution and well developed characters elevate it. What does it cost the soul to be a good spy? Read on! 4 of 5 Stars Pub Date 01 Jun 2021 #AnUnlikelySpy #NetGalley Thanks to the author, Ecco, and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    The Imitator by Rebecca Starford Australian Author, historical fiction Synopsis / 'We trade in secrets here, Evelyn. There's no shame in having a few of your own. Our only concern is for who might discover them.' Out of place at boarding school, scholarship girl Evelyn Varley realises that the only way for her to fit in is to be like everyone else. She hides her true self and what she really thinks behind the manners and attitudes of those around her. By the time she graduates from Oxford University The Imitator by Rebecca Starford Australian Author, historical fiction Synopsis / 'We trade in secrets here, Evelyn. There's no shame in having a few of your own. Our only concern is for who might discover them.' Out of place at boarding school, scholarship girl Evelyn Varley realises that the only way for her to fit in is to be like everyone else. She hides her true self and what she really thinks behind the manners and attitudes of those around her. By the time she graduates from Oxford University in 1939, ambitious and brilliant Evelyn has perfected her performance. War is looming. Evelyn soon finds herself recruited to MI5, and the elite counterintelligence department of Bennett White, the enigmatic spy-runner. Recognising Evelyn's mercurial potential, White schools her in observation and subterfuge and assigns her the dangerous task of infiltrating an underground group of Nazi sympathisers working to form an alliance with Germany. But befriending people to betray them isn't easy, no matter how dark their intent. Evelyn is drawn deeper into a duplicity of her own making, where truth and lies intertwine, and her increasing distrust of everyone, including herself, begins to test her better judgement. When a close friend becomes dangerously ensnared in her mission, Evelyn's loyalty is pushed to breaking point, forcing her to make an impossible decision. My Thoughts / First and foremost, my sincere thanks to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. In the last six months, I have enjoyed reading quite a few historical fiction novels, and this one fits right into that ‘enjoyable’ category. Other synonyms I could use to describe this book would be – pleasant, delightful and, agreeable. It was definitely enjoyable, but I didn’t love it. It turns out this work of fiction is loosely based on the true story of Joan Miller, who, as an English M15 recruit, infiltrated a fascist underground political group that sought to rally support for Hitler within England. If I could base my star rating solely on the cover, I’d give it 5 stars – the cover is beautiful. There were just a few issues which I struggled with in the book. 1. The timelines. Jumping between the 1930’s to the 1940’s. I thought it was unnecessary and did little to enhance what was happening with the story. 2. The chapters. They were unnecessarily long. They were well written, but moved about as quickly as a day-time soap opera. It was only when I got to around page 239 (of 344) that I felt like the story picked up pace. The ending of the book was rushed – it all happened in a whoosh. Which is a shame because that’s where the story picked up pace and you found yourself being drawn in to what was going on. 3. The characters. The main character is Evelyn. I felt like I never got any further than a glimpse of Evelyn’s character and because of this I thought she came across constrained, frigid and one-dimensional, and as such, unlikeable. I found I enjoyed the secondary characters a lot more – they seemed to have a bit more oomph. Personally, I found Julia to be a much more interesting character. She was puzzling, contradictory and had lots of depth to her. Likewise Sally was like a ray of sunshine in the glooms of London. I'm sure that many of you will read and love this book. Reading is a very personal subjective experience and not every book is for every reader. So, if you read this book synopsis and think that the plot will interest you, please go ahead and read and I hope you will enjoy it. Thank you Allen & Unwin Australia Pty. Ltd. for giving me the chance to read and review this book

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anna Loder

    What an edge of the seat read, I was so worried for Evelyn and worried by Evelyn...I found this absolutely page turning! I loved the character of Evelyn, I could so relate to her and could completely see her journey. The idea of a scholarship student being a perfect candidate for a spy is so clever. She was so well practiced in imitating the behaviour of others. I loved her parents, they were so well drawn. I had no idea there were any nazi sympathisers at the start of ww2, I’ve never even thoug What an edge of the seat read, I was so worried for Evelyn and worried by Evelyn...I found this absolutely page turning! I loved the character of Evelyn, I could so relate to her and could completely see her journey. The idea of a scholarship student being a perfect candidate for a spy is so clever. She was so well practiced in imitating the behaviour of others. I loved her parents, they were so well drawn. I had no idea there were any nazi sympathisers at the start of ww2, I’ve never even thought about that ‘phoney war’ period. I was so engrossed in the storyline. It was so well done, the writing is beautiful. I loved it, can’t wait for the next Rebecca Stratford novel!!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Katiana Krawchenko

    Starford’s language is beautiful and as a frequent reader of stories told about female spies during WWII, I not only really liked this novel but learned a lot along the way. As it turns out this work of fiction is loosely based on the true story of Joan Miller - an English M15 recruit who, as part of her work for them during WWII, infiltrated a fascist underground political group that sought to rally support for Hitler within England. I was engrossed for about 85% of the way and then found that Starford’s language is beautiful and as a frequent reader of stories told about female spies during WWII, I not only really liked this novel but learned a lot along the way. As it turns out this work of fiction is loosely based on the true story of Joan Miller - an English M15 recruit who, as part of her work for them during WWII, infiltrated a fascist underground political group that sought to rally support for Hitler within England. I was engrossed for about 85% of the way and then found that the ending unraveled quite clumsily. The ending itself was satisfying but the way it was written out did not reflect the same thoughtful and meticulous structure the rest of the novel had. I liked the main character Evelyn for most of the story but her lack of self-assurance aggravated me. But perhaps because she was able to inhabit so many different personas made her a good spy - even if it meant she never would fully know herself. I can appreciate that. All in all, I wanted to give this 4 stars but the way the final portion was written did not feel satisfactory to me. Thank you #NetGalley and Ecco for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica M

    http://jessjustreads.com An intriguing spy novel set during World War II, Rebecca Starford’s The Imitator is an ambitious blend of literary fiction, historical fiction, and espionage thriller. Whilst there were certain aspects of the novel that I enjoyed, the story did fall a little flat for me and certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for. Rebecca captures the era seamlessly, thrusting readers into the depths of the Second World War — the paranoia, the fear, but also the unearned cockiness from some http://jessjustreads.com An intriguing spy novel set during World War II, Rebecca Starford’s The Imitator is an ambitious blend of literary fiction, historical fiction, and espionage thriller. Whilst there were certain aspects of the novel that I enjoyed, the story did fall a little flat for me and certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for. Rebecca captures the era seamlessly, thrusting readers into the depths of the Second World War — the paranoia, the fear, but also the unearned cockiness from some people who think they’re invincible at a time like that. Meeting all the different characters in the novel — main or secondary — allows for an enjoyable read. Tension and pacing is managed incredibly well, allowing for a build-up of tension and a natural desire from the reader to keep turning the pages to find out how events during the war transpired. I personally found Julia to be quite the enigma, and I felt drawn to her as a character. I also really enjoyed the structure of the novel. Rebecca switches back and forth between 1948 — a time when Evelyn is incredibly secretive about her role during the War, especially when she runs into an old colleague Julia — and 1930/1939/1940. The time shift structure is common in historical fiction, and by moving between these dates we get a glimpse of how a character’s personality has altered over time, and how events of the past have affected them years later. “We trade in secrets here, Evelyn. There's no shame in having a few of your own. Our only concern is for who might discover them.” Truthfully, I never really felt like we got any glimpse into Evelyn other than her actions. She comes across as stiff, and her character impenetrable. A little cardboard cut-out. And because I never really felt like I understood the character, I couldn’t warm to her or develop any empathy towards her. So her struggles and plights — the complications she faces — didn’t really evoke much emotion in me. I sometimes wondered if writing this book in first person would’ve allowed for a more intimate portrayal of Evelyn, that might help readers connect with her better. Additionally, I would’ve liked more of an insight into her role as a spy. I was expecting more instances of betrayal — more moments where Evelyn had to choose between friends and her job. In reality, we witness only a couple of moments. And the subplot with her parents felt a little rushed and underdeveloped, I would’ve liked to see that become a bigger part of the story. “She felt a throb of tenderness for him. What courage it must take to sit down each day and work on the decryption, to unpick those messages typed up in the language of his childhood, all the while knowing what those people — his people — had done to his own parents. She felt sick at her ignorance.” The Imitator is suitable for readers of historical fiction. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Arthur

    ⭐️3.5 Stars⭐️ The Imitator is an intriguing story of an ordinary young woman who becomes a spy. The book examines the period leading up to WWII in England known as the Phoney War which I must admit I was unaware of. Winning a scholarship at an elite boarding school and feeling out of place due to her social class, Evelyn as a young student learns to blend in as she hides behind facades so she doesn’t stand out. It’s there she meets and becomes best friends with Sally who has an affluent family. From ⭐️3.5 Stars⭐️ The Imitator is an intriguing story of an ordinary young woman who becomes a spy. The book examines the period leading up to WWII in England known as the Phoney War which I must admit I was unaware of. Winning a scholarship at an elite boarding school and feeling out of place due to her social class, Evelyn as a young student learns to blend in as she hides behind facades so she doesn’t stand out. It’s there she meets and becomes best friends with Sally who has an affluent family. From there she heads to Oxford University, Evelyn is an intelligent woman who can speak fluent German which makes her an ideal candidate when she takes on a role with ‘The War Office’ which is actually MI5 intelligence during the Second World War. She progresses on to becoming a spy and learns to cultivate friendships and betray people while dangerously infiltrating groups sympathetic to the Nazi’s at the beginning of the war. When a close friend is mixed up in one of her missions Evelyn must make a decision between her country and her friend. There is plenty of suspense in the story yet I couldn’t warm to the portrayal of Eveyn’s character which is a shame, I’m not sure why but she felt standoffish and cold, possibly the perfect candidate to be a spy although I really loved the characters of Julia and Sally. I thought the concept of the story was unique, it was not something I had read about the war before. Thank you to publishers Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to win a copy of the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bec (booktineus)

    This review first appeared on my Instagram, @booktineus, and Happy Indulgence Book Blog. Thank you Allen & Unwin for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. The Good Things + Historical New Adult standalone set right at the beginning of the second World War. + It had the feel of a coming of age novel. Evelyn is in her early 20s, just left university, and trying to find her place in the world (something I related to a lot). All while working in counterintelligence for MI5 in London. This review first appeared on my Instagram, @booktineus, and Happy Indulgence Book Blog. Thank you Allen & Unwin for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. The Good Things + Historical New Adult standalone set right at the beginning of the second World War. + It had the feel of a coming of age novel. Evelyn is in her early 20s, just left university, and trying to find her place in the world (something I related to a lot). All while working in counterintelligence for MI5 in London. + Evelyn’s actual undercover work was some of my favourite parts of the novel. I wish we got to see her spend more time infiltrating different groups and uncovering information. + There was a really interesting range of characters that appeared throughout the story. + The story flips back and forth between 1948 and events in 1939/1940 which was interesting. Seeing Evelyn after the war made me more interested in seeing how events unfolded to get her to where she was in 1948 and kept me reading. The Not-So-Good Things - When I looked this book up on Goodreads, the summary implied this was a thriller... it wasn't a thriller at all, not even any real action. And because I went in with the wrong expectations, a lot of it fell flat for me. - It was really slow and I struggled with it at the beginning. There was a lot of descriptions that slowed the pace down. - Overall I was bored and disappointed there wasn't more high stakes, suspenseful action and espionage. I don't mind a character driven novel, and exploring the effect the intelligence work had on Evelyn was interesting. But like I said, I was expecting a different story. - We barely got a look at the counter-intelligence work Evelyn did. She doesn't even move to that part of MI5 until halfway through the book. TLDR; While I liked this book overall, I also was a bit disappointed because I went in with unrealistic expectations. I thought I was getting a WWII spy thriller, not a character driven novel. Still, it was interesting exploring how the counterintelligence work affected Evelyn’s character and relationships.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anna Davidson

    Just what I needed to pull me out of my reading slump ... a well written, compelling historical fiction with great characters and a good dose of intrigue.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Unseen Library

    I received a copy of The Imitator from Allen & Unwin Australia to review. Rating of 4.25. Deception, divided loyalties and despair are all on offer in the debut novel of Australian writer Rebecca Starford, who presents a curious and captivating read with The Imitator. This ended up being a fantastic and enjoyable read from Rebecca Starford, who has come up with a really intriguing and unique story. Starford is an Australian writer who is probably best known for her work on the Kill Your Darlings ma I received a copy of The Imitator from Allen & Unwin Australia to review. Rating of 4.25. Deception, divided loyalties and despair are all on offer in the debut novel of Australian writer Rebecca Starford, who presents a curious and captivating read with The Imitator. This ended up being a fantastic and enjoyable read from Rebecca Starford, who has come up with a really intriguing and unique story. Starford is an Australian writer who is probably best known for her work on the Kill Your Darlings magazine, as well as her non-fiction book Bad Behaviour, which chronicled the author's life at an elite country boarding school. The Imitator, which was also released under the title, An Unlikely Spy, is an impressive and captivating historical drama that follows a young woman who becomes involved with British espionage at the start of World War II. The Imitator has an interesting and surprising story to it which is guaranteed to grab the reader’s attention all the way up to its final shocking twist. Told from the perspective of protagonist, Evelyn Varley, the story is split into two distinct periods, with some of plot set shortly after the end of World War II, while the rest follows the protagonist during the early days of the war. Most of the narrative is set during the earlier time and examines the protagonist during this period, including her recruitment into MI5 and her eventual work investigating Nazi sympathisers. This proves to be quite a fascinating narrative thread, and I really enjoyed the great blend of historical espionage and the compelling drama surrounding the character and her personal relationships. I was particularly intrigued by the parts of the book that explored Evelyn’s attempts to infiltrate a major group of Nazi sympathisers, especially as she is forced to alter her personality to fit into the tight-knit group of fascists. Starford also includes several chapters set after the war which show Evelyn dealing with the aftermath and her actions during the conflict. These post-war sequences compliment the rest of the story extremely well, and hint at tragic consequences to what she did after she is contacted by people from her past. However, readers are in for quite a shock, as these later sequences are shown to be a major bait and switch. Instead of the conclusion that you would generally expect in one of these stories, Starford puts in a particularly major and dramatic twist which really changes the entire tone of the narrative. This twist was a brilliant master stroke from the author, especially as it switches around the implications for the post-war chapters and shines a whole new light on everything. I was really impressed with this amazing narrative, especially once you realise how the author set up the clever ending, and this was truly an awesome and memorable story. One of the things that I really liked about The Imitator was the fantastic historical setting of London during the early period of World War II. Starford did a great job of highlighting what life during this period would have been like, from the early actions of organisations such as MI5, to the feelings of the populace, most of whom were convinced that the war would be fought far away or would not happen at all. I was also really impressed by the author’s examination and dramatization of several intriguing real-life historical events that occurred during this period. The character of Evelyn Varley is based upon the real life of MI5 operative Joan Miller, who infiltrated a major Nazi sympathiser movement, known as the Right Club, in London back in 1939. Many details about the Right Club are fitted into the book and used as the basis for the Nazi group the protagonist infiltrates. While there are several name changes, the fictional group closely matches what actually happened with the Right Club and MI5’s mission to infiltrate it. I felt that Staford did an amazing job exploring this group and the mission of Joan Miller, and it proved to be an exceptional and clever base to this awesome story. I also must compliment the compelling and intriguing protagonist of this novel, Evelyn, who serves as the main point-of-view character for the story. Evelyn is a complex individual with a number of features formed during her harsh early life at a prestigious private boarding school. Thanks to her less affluent parents, Evelyn does not really fit in with the richer students and is soon forced to adopt a much different persona, which is helped by the relationship she forms with the family of her one friend at the school. This ability to change her persona becomes particularly important later in life when she begins her career in espionage and must show a false side to herself to people she is trying to take down. Starford has written a fantastically complex character here in Evelyn, and I really appreciated the way in which the author examines what events or personality traits a successful undercover spy might need to have. I also liked the way in which we get to see the character at different parts of her life as the book progresses, such as her innocent pre-war life, her experiences as a seasoned infiltrator and her reflections as a damaged survivor. These various periods of her life and the different personalities are very dramatic and intriguing, and I found it fascinating to see how the author envisioned her changing personality. Starford also writes in an extremely good storyline around the protagonist’s twisted loyalties, which forces her to choose between the safety of her country and the people closest to her. These conflicting loyalties and friendships take Eveyln in some dark places and I really must applaud the clever and powerful narrative that Starford constructed around this great character. Overall, The Imitator by Rebecca Starford is an exceptional and captivating read that comes highly recommended. I really enjoyed this fantastic book’s clever blend of historical fiction, espionage and dramatic storylines, and I had a wonderful time getting through all of The Imitator’s compelling twists and revelations. An outstanding read that is guaranteed to stick in the mind long after you have finished reading it. An abridged version of this review ran in the Canberra Weekly on 18 February 2021: https://unseenlibrary.com/2021/04/20/... For other exciting reviews and content, check out my blog at: https://unseenlibrary.com/

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Brief synopsis: The cover of this book is what captured me first. The fact it's historical fiction with a bit of WWII spy and espionage, I was sold! The main character, Evelyn, is smart and very capable. She wins a scholarship to attend an elite boarding school where she makes relationships that will impact her life. Some of these connections will impact her future. Evelyn becomes restless and uses some of her connections to work in the war office and M15 as a spy. Befriending people so you can Brief synopsis: The cover of this book is what captured me first. The fact it's historical fiction with a bit of WWII spy and espionage, I was sold! The main character, Evelyn, is smart and very capable. She wins a scholarship to attend an elite boarding school where she makes relationships that will impact her life. Some of these connections will impact her future. Evelyn becomes restless and uses some of her connections to work in the war office and M15 as a spy. Befriending people so you can betray them is not some easy task, it’s taxing. Evelyn starts to live through different people; there’s the friend, smart and studious adult, sweet person and there was Evelyn the spy who had to keep secrets, betray and spy on people, and try not to tell someone about it. Eventually the truth and lies marry and soon she finds herself in a dark place where she begins to not trust herself. A close friend of Evelyn’s becomes involved in one of her missions, and Evelyn’s pushed to make a difficult decision. Thoughts: Thank you #NetGalley for the opportunity to review “An #UnlikelySpy ” and I hope my review provides an unbiased review that is honest. I love reading historical fiction, especially when it involves some of my other genres (mystery, suspense, spy, etc.). “An Unlikely Spy” involved these other genres, loosely, and for the most part, it was enjoyable to read. Let me just say, that the cover deserves 5 stars. As I said, it’s what drew me to this book, and decide to review it. However, I didn’t love the book. I was familiar with the historical part of the book and that Evelyn was based on Joan Miller who was an English M15 recruit. Joan spied and infiltrated fascist political groups that supported Hitler in England. It’s a fascinating story that I offer anyone to research and read about, but because I had this knowledge while reading it…it was hard for me to take some of the exaggerations and issues inside the book seriously. Issues: It was unnecessarily long. Granted, it was written well, but several times I found my mind starting to focus on other things because it was gripping. The timelines that jumped between the 1930s and 1940s were hard at times to decipher and got confusing. I thought some of the back and forth not worth it as it just made the story confusing and didn’t do anything to help with the levity of the chapters. Around pages 230-330 I felt the book started to get into a good rhythm, but once I got into that rhythm the story ended. The ending of the book for me was rushed and I was left indifferent. For most of the book, I was longing for the book to pick up the pace, and once it did, I didn’t stay there long. Another issue is Evelyn. For the most part, I enjoyed her character, but I never felt like I got to know her. Was that the point? I could understand if the author wanted to keep Evelyn a bit distant from the reader, as Evelyn is this spy and is struggling to know who she is, as well. Was it a plan for the readers to feel distrust? Evelyn just felt far away in the story, and I felt I got a better glimpse from the other characters (Julia and Sally). In fact, I wish we could have dived more into the backstories of the other characters, that being Julia. Julia always seemed like a Marilyn Monroe type to me, only more mysterious, fox-like, and depth. I wanted to know why she was, the way she was. Whenever Sally was in the story, it was like a breath of fresh air. It made everything in the story light. I actually was happy when she would be in a chapter because it made the chapter feel not as long. Regardless, as a reader, I shouldn’t be relying on the characters to make the book better for me…or to add lightness to the story. That’s on the author. Conclusion: I know that a lot of my friends would be interested in reading this and that some of them will love this. I can see this book having people who find themselves loving it and indifferent. I don’t think people will dislike the story, because it’s so good and well-rounded. I also think this would make for a nice book club book. It would have been nice if there were book club questions at the end of the book to spark conversations about the history, women of WWII, WWII, and fascism in countries like England, and etc. There are a lot of topics that can come out of this book to discuss more. Thank you, again, #NetGalley for letting me review An #UnlikelySpy. This was a wonderful opportunity. #NetGalley #UnlikelySpy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews

    *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Rebecca Starford vividly brings to life the fascinating world of female spies during World War Two in The Imitator. With plenty of exciting and tense movements of espionage, The Imitator is an intricately plotted novel that provided me with an alternative picture of the war. Drawn from real life events following the experiences of a female spy operative during the Second World War, The Imitator is a mind-bending novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Rebecca Starford vividly brings to life the fascinating world of female spies during World War Two in The Imitator. With plenty of exciting and tense movements of espionage, The Imitator is an intricately plotted novel that provided me with an alternative picture of the war. Drawn from real life events following the experiences of a female spy operative during the Second World War, The Imitator is a mind-bending novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader on their toes. Directing the proceedings of The Imitator is Evelyn Varley, a woman who likes to blend into the background. Unable to reveal her true identity and feelings, Evelyn is an enigma. Evelyn has carefully crafted her persona over a number of years and 1939, following the successful completion of her university studies Evelyn is as ambitious as ever. When the war arrives on Evelyn’s doorstep, this highly intelligent and brave young woman is thrust into a world of espionage. Evelyn is a woman with a great deal of potential to make a difference to world, especially with her unique talents. Recruited by the world’s most well-known spy agency, Evelyn sets about completing a series of assignments that present a great deal of danger. In this exhilarating spy game tale, Rebecca Starford has crafted a highly engaging World War Two mystery based narrative. With a television series of her highly regarded memoir Bad Behaviour in development, Rebecca Starford is one busy writer. It is always great to see an author branch out into different fields writing wise and The Imitator is quite contrasted to Starford’s previous release, a memoir which I enjoyed in 2015. The Imitator is carefully drawn from real life experiences and is presented in the form of a very engaging historical fiction narrative. I know I greatly valued the intent and direction of this novel, it was a riveting read. The strength in The Imitator does rest in the presentation of lead protagonist Evelyn Varley. A pillar of strength, high interest, bravery and resilience, I think Evelyn was lovingly drawn by Rebecca Starford. There is also a strong sense of authenticity and realism to Evelyn’s character, which is down to the research efforts of Rebecca Starford. I genuinely enjoyed every waking moment I spent with Evelyn. At times Evelyn’s life was quiet as Starford worked to build a fascinating world around her prime protagonist. In other instances Evelyn was surrounded by intrigue, tension, high octane experiences and intricate espionage activities. A perceptive and calculating read is issued to the audience, that really packs a punch. When there is just so much variety in the World War Two fiction arena, it can be overwhelming to decide what is worth selecting from this plentiful genre. Thankfully, The Imitator is a book that I believe is well worth plucking from this overwhelming selection pool. With a strong attention to period detail and an excellent representation of female war time experiences with an espionage slant, I am certain The Imitator will satisfy keen eyed historical fiction readers. Please turn your attention to the very detailed author’s note contained at the back of the book if you have this book in your possession, it offers an enlightening focus on some truly fascinating real life experiences during the war. The Imitator delivers a powerful tale of gallantry and valor on behalf of the amazing female trailblazers during the war. Inspiring and exalting, Rebecca Starford’s new novel is an influential read that I have no hesitation in recommending to fans of historical fiction. *Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes. The Imitator is book #21 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eva

    I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. In this historical novel, set alternately in the early days of World War II and the years immediately after the war, our main character Evelyn is a bright and talented young woman from humble beginnings who doesn’t really know what she wants in life, but who gravitates toward excitement whenever it crosses her path. The alternate title of the book (UK title?) is The Imitator, the reasons for which become more and mo I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. In this historical novel, set alternately in the early days of World War II and the years immediately after the war, our main character Evelyn is a bright and talented young woman from humble beginnings who doesn’t really know what she wants in life, but who gravitates toward excitement whenever it crosses her path. The alternate title of the book (UK title?) is The Imitator, the reasons for which become more and more obvious as the book progresses. Evelyn is skilled at social camouflage, changing her behaviors (and often outright lying) to fit in with certain people and groups, often at the expense of her relationship with those she holds dearest. But when these skills are tapped by MI-5 in the service of Britain in World War II, the stakes (and the consequences) for Evelyn are heightened, especially when her forays into espionage and her personal life collide. This is not a fast-paced spy thriller. That might sound like a criticism, but it’s not - the book instead takes its time to get to know the characters, with the plot gradually accelerating as Evelyn’s situation grows more and more complex. The book alternates between the life Evelyn finds herself in after the war, in 1948, before traveling back to show us at length how she got there, in 1939. Unfortunately, I found the jumps back and forth in time a little confusing, with no indication other than the characters and places mentioned, which makes it a little difficult to know when you’ve jumped forward, especially if you have trouble keeping track of tertiary characters’ names. A simple statement of the date at the beginning of each chapter would clear things up nicely. In spite of her shortcomings, I found Evelyn to be a mostly sympathetic character worth rooting for, and the plot was an intriguing tale of espionage, based in part on real events. Recommended for those looking for a slower-paced spy story or female-centered historical novel. The book contains LGTBQIA Rep: there is one explicitly gay character, another that is either gay or bisexual (I don’t think it’s ever stated), and this one might just be my perception of subtext but the main character, Evelyn, gives me a strong Ace vibe. TW: Antisemitism typical to stories set in WWII-era Europe, sexual assault, and an instance of fatphobia which was minor but kind of blindsided me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alli

    I received this book from Netgalley and Ecco in exchange for an honest review. For the most part, I enjoyed this book about a young woman who becomes a spy for the UK during World War II. Centering around Evelyn, the book takes us through her early years, the time she spent working for MI5, and her life after the war. The time periods interweave, going back into her past or ahead into her future every few chapters. The book is very well written; I read another book (a biography) a few weeks ago a I received this book from Netgalley and Ecco in exchange for an honest review. For the most part, I enjoyed this book about a young woman who becomes a spy for the UK during World War II. Centering around Evelyn, the book takes us through her early years, the time she spent working for MI5, and her life after the war. The time periods interweave, going back into her past or ahead into her future every few chapters. The book is very well written; I read another book (a biography) a few weeks ago about a woman who became a spy during WWII, and in a weird way, the characters in this book (which only draw on real world people, as identified in the acknowledgments) feel more real than the people in that previous book. If there is a downside to this book, it can mainly be found in the main character. She is, in many ways, very one dimensional. Even at the times where we are told that she is afraid or worried, it never really feels that way. I felt for most of this book that this was a woman who, never once in her life, was ever happy. Not with family, not at school, not with friends. It made it very difficult to connect with her as a character, because underlying everything was just this feeling of sadness and apathy. The ending of the book as well felt rather rushed. Her one mission, embedding herself in a Nazi-collaborator ring in London, was very well set up and described, and yet, somehow, that was not the actual climax of the book. The event that was was a bit predictible, which would be fine if it hadn't come and gone like a speeding train. The denoument of the story also was too quick, too short. It is honestly difficult to say how the book ends because it just... does. It is the only part of the book where we are just "told" what happened, as opposed to being "shown," and the ending suffers for it, because it feels like there is just too much left unresolved. Overall, this is a well-written book, that fans of espionage will enjoy despite its downsides.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    An Unlikely Spy follows the life of Evelyn Varley- a clever girl with great aspirations that lead her to Oxford and, eventually, the MI5 counterintelligence unit at the brink of WWII. She finds herself posing as a Nazi-sympathizer in hopes of building a case to expose a anti-Semitic society. Evelyn must take on a new persona and yet somehow try to hold on to pieces of herself. Having to make impossible decisions along the way, Evelyn finds herself buried beneath more and more layers. Review: Star An Unlikely Spy follows the life of Evelyn Varley- a clever girl with great aspirations that lead her to Oxford and, eventually, the MI5 counterintelligence unit at the brink of WWII. She finds herself posing as a Nazi-sympathizer in hopes of building a case to expose a anti-Semitic society. Evelyn must take on a new persona and yet somehow try to hold on to pieces of herself. Having to make impossible decisions along the way, Evelyn finds herself buried beneath more and more layers. Review: Starford’s writing is richly detailed and extremely well-researched, making it easy to place yourself in the shoes of Evelyn Varley. Her devotion to this story is evident from early on. For me, this was a bit of a slow burner. This book is packed with historical facts, which I greatly appreciated but felt took away a bit from the character development and emotional side of the story, which is what really resonates with me. There is no denying that the concept behind this book is absolutely brilliant. I, personally, cannot get enough of historical fictions that spotlight the what you’ll often hear me refer to as “the unsung heroes.” I enjoyed that this book highlighted the integral roles women played in the war but what stood out about An Unlikely Spy were the scars left behind. We often read about soldiers and PTSD but rarely do we see books that discuss the incredible toll taken on women in the aftermath of such taxing, life-altering, and often thankless work. How does this effect their ability to open up to others? What toll must it take for one to not be able to give themselves fully to another; to not know their truth in it’s entirety. I greatly appreciate the complexities of this story. I was just hoping for more. A huge thank you to Ecco & Harper Collins for this advanced copy of An Unlikely Spy for the chance to read this book in exchange for my honest opinions.

  19. 4 out of 5

    John Reid

    What is identity? Who are we and what do we represent? These and other, similar, questions come regularly to mind reading Rebecca Starfurd’s debut novel, The Imitator, in which we follow Evelyn Varley who becomes a spy in the early days of World War II. Evelyn, from small-town Lewes, is a scholarship girl at a boarding school, where she does well with her education, at the same time establishing friendships with girls from more entitled families. Forever seeking to advance herself, she quickly ad What is identity? Who are we and what do we represent? These and other, similar, questions come regularly to mind reading Rebecca Starfurd’s debut novel, The Imitator, in which we follow Evelyn Varley who becomes a spy in the early days of World War II. Evelyn, from small-town Lewes, is a scholarship girl at a boarding school, where she does well with her education, at the same time establishing friendships with girls from more entitled families. Forever seeking to advance herself, she quickly adapts to how the other girls speak and dress, hiding herself behind a false front. The friends play important roles through the story, but not always as might be imagined. At Oxford, Evelyn reads history and German. Chamberlain fails in his appeasement of Hitler, and war with Germany is declared, Evelyn going to ‘the War Office’ as a mundane shipping movements clerk, but is in fact drafted into MI5. Subterfuge is an essential ingredient in such an environment, but in many ways it runs in parallel with her life, for she has created a new Evelyn foreign to her parents and her more plebeian background. During the period of the Phoney War, Evelyn, ‘Chameleon’ in internal nomenclature, inveigles herself into a German-leaning movement in an endeavour to bring it down. It means she must become something she is not for her to access ‘The Lion Society,’ but this requires little change as her life is already one of pretence. The writing is, at times, almost le Carre-esque in its development, but without ever invoking the sense of concern for the main character such as that routinely created by ‘the master.’ A twist towards the end of the story fails to raise the hackles. The Imitator, based on actual case files, is well researched and easy reading. A good first effort, with perhaps better to come from this young author. 3 1/2 stars

  20. 5 out of 5

    Addie BookCrazyBlogger

    Evelyn Varley was a lower-class young woman growing up in England and always wanted to make something of herself. When she received a scholarship to Oxford during the early 1930’s to study German, she accepted and began rubbing elbows with the more privileged set in her country. In 1939, with war threatening to break out and Evelyn desperate to prove herself, she finds herself recruited by the War Office to become a spy with MI5. She becomes embedded in the Lion Society, a confirmed anti-Semitic Evelyn Varley was a lower-class young woman growing up in England and always wanted to make something of herself. When she received a scholarship to Oxford during the early 1930’s to study German, she accepted and began rubbing elbows with the more privileged set in her country. In 1939, with war threatening to break out and Evelyn desperate to prove herself, she finds herself recruited by the War Office to become a spy with MI5. She becomes embedded in the Lion Society, a confirmed anti-Semitic exclusive club and one MI5 thinks had turned to German loyalty. As Evelyn becomes more embedded in the world of spying, she’s torn between what’s real and what’s not. When Evelyn is met with a choice of saving her country or the people who love her most, her loyalty will be tested, impacting things for years after. One thing that frustrates me when it comes to World War II, is the total lack of focus on the propaganda and hatred surrounding Jewish people. This book corrects this mistake, through the eyes of a spy and it was simply fascinating to see Evelyn’s better nature finding the holes in all of the arguments, yet understanding that if she were to even breathe a word, her entire career would be out in jeopardy. I also found it really fascinating about how class really affects everything in this book: from the position you received in aiding (or for that matter, going against!) the government in the war effort and how easy it is to be thrown under the bus when you lack connections. All in all, I’d say that this is a decent spy book. I did get the same reaction as everyone else in the book about Evelyn as a narrator-she was cold and detached, which was difficult for me to connect with. She holds her cards close to her chest and yet, there is something so alluring about her story.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford is a great historical fiction novel alternating between two time periods, 1940 and 1948, during WWII. In this novel, ambitious and intelligent Evelyn Varley rises above her small-town English upbringing, attends a prestigious university, and ends up being recruited for counterintelligence MI5, and becomes ensnared into undercover work as a Nazi sympathizer in hopes to gain valuable information for the Allies. Evelyn enters this task with vim, vigor, and fortit An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford is a great historical fiction novel alternating between two time periods, 1940 and 1948, during WWII. In this novel, ambitious and intelligent Evelyn Varley rises above her small-town English upbringing, attends a prestigious university, and ends up being recruited for counterintelligence MI5, and becomes ensnared into undercover work as a Nazi sympathizer in hopes to gain valuable information for the Allies. Evelyn enters this task with vim, vigor, and fortitude thinking everything is simple and black/white, but what she really finds out is that high stakes positions also lead to high stakes decisions. At one point she has to decide: loyalty to country or to personal relationships. Evelyn is a flawed character, but her haughtiness and overconfidence shows that deep down she is vulnerable and looking for some sort of acceptance and recognition. Does she go about any of these things in the right ways? Nope, not always. But, it would be a boring ride if she did. I also enjoyed the author’s ability to create a mystery at the beginning and then through weaving between two time periods, piece together the events until all is revealed at the end. I always enjoy that plot device when it is pulled off well. I also enjoyed the Author’s note at the end with factual information and also her inspirations that helped lead her to this novel. A great historical fiction. 4/5 stars Thank you Ecco and NetGalley for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 6/1/21.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    An Unlikely Spy is a detailed, dark, emotional read about Evelyn Varley navigating her way through WWII London. The storyline is told through a flashback method, where we learn more about Evelyn's current life in 1948 and what she's done in the past 10 years since she graduated from Oxford. Evelyn was the kind of girl who would do whatever it took to fit in with her peers, including leaving a friend in the street to hang out with the in-crowd and a current estrangement with her parents. In short, An Unlikely Spy is a detailed, dark, emotional read about Evelyn Varley navigating her way through WWII London. The storyline is told through a flashback method, where we learn more about Evelyn's current life in 1948 and what she's done in the past 10 years since she graduated from Oxford. Evelyn was the kind of girl who would do whatever it took to fit in with her peers, including leaving a friend in the street to hang out with the in-crowd and a current estrangement with her parents. In short, she already had the weapons in her arsenal to make a good spy for the government to ferret out Nazi sympathizers in Britain. Maintaining a double life is never easy, but Evelyn encounters an extra challenge when her work collides with her personal life. When push comes to shove, will Evelyn even know who she is? In learning more about Evelyn, I found that I didn't like her very much, which made her story a challenging read for me. However, this didn't make the story any less compelling. Evelyn is asked to infiltrate a group of Nazi sympathizers, and even though they are the enemy, she has to see them as people who want the best for their country just as she does. I found myself incredibly conflicted right along Evelyn, and although I would have chosen differently (I think), to watch her have to make these choices was very difficult. Although this book was dark, I think it delivers a valuable lesson about espionage; it's not 007 or Ethan Hunt, it's real people making difficult decisions. While this isn't a comfortable read, it shouldn't be. This novel was well-researched, well-written, and I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to learn. Read my full review at samiamreadingandreviewing.wordpress.com.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy Hammond-Hagberg

    I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Last night I finished reading An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford. Now, I’m real sucker for WWII historical fiction, and if you mix in a little espionage, I’ll stay up all night reading. This novel, however, had me wondering when it was going to end. Here’s the basic plot: Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gai I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Last night I finished reading An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford. Now, I’m real sucker for WWII historical fiction, and if you mix in a little espionage, I’ll stay up all night reading. This novel, however, had me wondering when it was going to end. Here’s the basic plot: Evelyn Varley has always been ambitious and clever. As a girl, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious academy well above her parents’ means, gaining her a best friend from one of England’s wealthiest families. In 1939, with an Oxford degree in hand and war looming, Evelyn finds herself recruited into an elite MI5 counterintelligence unit. A ruthless secret society seeks an alliance with Germany and, posing as a Nazi sympathizer, Evelyn must build a case to expose their treachery. But as she is drawn deeper into layers of duplicity—perhaps of her own making—some of those closest to her become embroiled in her investigation. With Evelyn’s loyalties placed under extraordinary pressure, she’ll face an impossible choice: save her country or the people who love her. Her decision echoes for years after the war, impacting everyone who thought they knew the real Evelyn Varley. With a write-up like that, I expected to be blown off the edge of my seat and burning through pages of this WWII thriller. What I got, however, was an overdramatized plot and sappy dialogue. It’s funny how the traitors kept spilling the beans to Evelyn (but hey, that did keep the plot moving along so everything could be tied up in a big bow at the end). Her writing style and my reading style just aren’t a match. Three stars.

  24. 5 out of 5

    A. M. Kimber

    :: Thank you Netgalley for the free ARC in exchange for a honest review :: It took me a few days after reading to write this review as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it... On one side, I really enjoyed those little known things about war-time England, such as the Officials Secret Act, or Holloway Hall. I loved the street scenes, like when Evelyn would walk down Earl Street and the descriptions of the sights and sounds would immerse you in the scene. And the dialogue added so much in characterizat :: Thank you Netgalley for the free ARC in exchange for a honest review :: It took me a few days after reading to write this review as I wasn’t sure how I felt about it... On one side, I really enjoyed those little known things about war-time England, such as the Officials Secret Act, or Holloway Hall. I loved the street scenes, like when Evelyn would walk down Earl Street and the descriptions of the sights and sounds would immerse you in the scene. And the dialogue added so much in characterization. I also liked the fact that the story was character driven...however, despite being character driven, I didn’t feel very close to Evelyn (which is the reason for the rating). There was a lot of internalization, which you would think would help guide you to understand this person but, for me it didn’t. Evelyn is often referred to as being “cold” or “superior” but I didn’t think that, to me she was distant. I’m not sure, but I think it might have been on purpose, because even through all that internalization, Evelyn didn’t seem to really know herself. She was in a constant state of flux, always trying to be someone else - first at school with her peers and then later when she was at the War office - never knowing how to act or what to say. And because of this indecision on her part, I couldn’t sympathize with her. It was only in the end, with Stephen, that I felt anything for her, because it was with him, she was vulnerable and let us see the real her. Overall I did enjoy it, as I love historical fiction and loved that it gave us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes war effort. ***

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pippa Joyce

    Too often lately I've read books that are great books, even brilliant books, but feel let down by the ending. Again, The Imitator was this for me. It should've been something I'd give 5 stars too. I loved it. The writing was 5 star. The characters, beautifully drawn, were 5 star, the description of surroundings, the thoughts put into each character, 5 star indeed. But I struggled with the ending. I felt let down after being so invested all the way through. Another couple of small issues which I Too often lately I've read books that are great books, even brilliant books, but feel let down by the ending. Again, The Imitator was this for me. It should've been something I'd give 5 stars too. I loved it. The writing was 5 star. The characters, beautifully drawn, were 5 star, the description of surroundings, the thoughts put into each character, 5 star indeed. But I struggled with the ending. I felt let down after being so invested all the way through. Another couple of small issues which I had with this, which don't really take away from the story, but were a slight irritation to me, were some inconsistencies. For example at the very beginning, this melodramatic spy speak on the phone, trying to arrange a visit with Vincent. This is 8 years or so after the war. The characters didn't behave like this when they were active spies during the war. In fact that were quite relaxed in how they met up. So it made little sense looking back at that conversation and seemed to be reaching to add in suspense. Also I found the main character over-reaching a bit in her reactions at the beginning, without going into to much detail to spoil it for those who haven't read it. Also the author spent way to much time hinting at this terrible thing that happened. Not until half way through the book did this even begin to come clear. The time to reveal this dragged a bit. But overall, I loved it. I just felt the climax at the end could have been better, or for better reasons. Certainly would recommend it though. A beautiful, entertaining and lyrical read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Craig / Phil

    Thank you Allen & Unwin for sending us a copy to read and review. From a young age Evelyn has had to be someone she is not, blending in and hiding behind facades. Winning a scholarship to an exclusive private school taught her immediately the differences in social class. Adapting to the ways of her friends and cohorts just to fit in and survive. Imitation at it’s finest. Intelligent and likeable she secured a role with the M15 intelligence agency during the Second World War. Her demeanour and bil Thank you Allen & Unwin for sending us a copy to read and review. From a young age Evelyn has had to be someone she is not, blending in and hiding behind facades. Winning a scholarship to an exclusive private school taught her immediately the differences in social class. Adapting to the ways of her friends and cohorts just to fit in and survive. Imitation at it’s finest. Intelligent and likeable she secured a role with the M15 intelligence agency during the Second World War. Her demeanour and bilingual ability making her perfect for the role. Although the war was at its fiercest on the continent, the English had to be on their guard and stamp out unpatriotic and illegal activity on the home front. Unlikely groups of German sympathisers sprouting from within. Evelyn with her desirable skill has to infiltrate a group and betray those that thought she was a friend. The deceptions and reality of this work unfolding till its thrilling climax. I absolutely loved reading as it’s angle of the war I’ve not yet read about. I didn’t realise it was possible that Intelligence had to fight on war on home soil extinguishing propaganda and discontent. An eye opener that some believed the Germans were doing the right thing. Rebecca has provided the reader with a taste of the social climate during the war with a strong lead lady who is anything but predictable. An espionage epic.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary G.

    Who is Evelyn Varley? After attending an elite preparatory school and Oxford, her parents think she's lost sight of her humble upbringing. But she still doesn't fit perfectly in the world of her affluent best friend Sally. Armed with her degree in German, Evelyn wants to make a difference in the war effort. When she's recruited into MI5, she becomes a mole in a group of Nazi sympathizers. But the lines between good and evil are not always stark, and she finds herself having to choose where her l Who is Evelyn Varley? After attending an elite preparatory school and Oxford, her parents think she's lost sight of her humble upbringing. But she still doesn't fit perfectly in the world of her affluent best friend Sally. Armed with her degree in German, Evelyn wants to make a difference in the war effort. When she's recruited into MI5, she becomes a mole in a group of Nazi sympathizers. But the lines between good and evil are not always stark, and she finds herself having to choose where her loyalties lie. In the present, we see the consequences of her decisions and how her work has weighed on her. I enjoy historical fiction with multiple timelines, so this book was a natural fit for me. Starford did a good job building up tension in both timelines, and I was eager to put all the puzzle pieces together. Evelyn is a well-drawn protagonist - compelling and sharp. Seeing her outside her comfort zone as she interacted with the pro-fascists was very intriguing. I did not guess the twists/deception revealed at the end, and I thought the ending was satisfying. This was a fun jaunt into the world of MI5, and I'd recommend it to those who like historical fiction. Thank you to Ecco for providing an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Traylor

    I was very hopeful for this book. It has many of the concepts I find intriguing- World War II, spies, female lead. The thought of a lower class female working her way up to being a spy of all things during a war was a great plot idea. I felt like the plot of the story did not meet my expectations. Multiple times it felt rushed and like key details were missing. I wish the author had gone into more details with examples of the protagonist's dealings with the groups she was infiltrating. I appreci I was very hopeful for this book. It has many of the concepts I find intriguing- World War II, spies, female lead. The thought of a lower class female working her way up to being a spy of all things during a war was a great plot idea. I felt like the plot of the story did not meet my expectations. Multiple times it felt rushed and like key details were missing. I wish the author had gone into more details with examples of the protagonist's dealings with the groups she was infiltrating. I appreciate the effort the author put into writing the story and her research into these types of events. It was clear she spent time looking up these details to make the story believable. It is the start to a great novel for sure. With a few more events demonstrating how the lead has to transform herself to do her job and the events she takes part in the story would be excellent. Despite my not as high rating, I do feel the author wrote well and allowed me to see and feel right along with with characters. Being able to see her battle with herself about how these acts as a spy made her feel was a new perspective and thought process I had not considered. Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity for this ARC.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Jaffe

    Evelyn Varley is a scholarship student, bright but not from the same echelons of society as the girls with whom she is at school. She makes one friend, Sally, but other than that Evelyn must subsume her true self and adopt the manners and mores expected of her. The skill proves handy when she succeeds in getting into Oxford and by the time she graduates, she is an expert at fitting in. As war looms, Evelyn’s German studies helps her secure a role with the War Office but it is not long before MI5 Evelyn Varley is a scholarship student, bright but not from the same echelons of society as the girls with whom she is at school. She makes one friend, Sally, but other than that Evelyn must subsume her true self and adopt the manners and mores expected of her. The skill proves handy when she succeeds in getting into Oxford and by the time she graduates, she is an expert at fitting in. As war looms, Evelyn’s German studies helps her secure a role with the War Office but it is not long before MI5 have spotted her real potential. The Imitator moves between the early days of Word War II when many British people were desperate to avoid another war at all costs and the early post war period where Evelyn must reconcile herself to the many betrayals she enacted in the name of loyalty to King and Empire. Starford has based the novel on a true story and meticulously researched the period, which is perhaps less explored than the main war years. I really enjoyed this novel, and in fact, my one wish is that it had been longer. There were questions and relationships I felt deserved more time on the page. But having said that, Starford deftly navigates the tricky but murky waters of courage, loyalty and sacrifice. The Imitators is a very satisfying read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Hooker

    I’m a sucker for historical fiction that highlights women with moxie. Stories that capture women shaping history will never get old, and An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford is no exception. The novel is loosely based on a true story of a young woman becoming a spy for the M15 counterintelligence unit in England at the dawn of WWII. Evelyn Varley finds herself entrenched in M15, the unit dedicated to infiltrate groups in Britain who were sympathetic to the Nazis. As a young spy, she is thrust int I’m a sucker for historical fiction that highlights women with moxie. Stories that capture women shaping history will never get old, and An Unlikely Spy by Rebecca Starford is no exception. The novel is loosely based on a true story of a young woman becoming a spy for the M15 counterintelligence unit in England at the dawn of WWII. Evelyn Varley finds herself entrenched in M15, the unit dedicated to infiltrate groups in Britain who were sympathetic to the Nazis. As a young spy, she is thrust into situations that test her resolve and loyalty. The story follows Evelyn as she weathers the war as a cunning spy, but also delves deep into her post-war life. She wrestles with grief and the personal cost of decisions that continue to haunt her. Watching Evelyn navigate severed relationships and truly finding herself in the aftermath of the war made for a compelling read. An Unlikely Spy was more character-driven than previous WWII novels I had read, and this worked for me. Knowing the story was based on the lives of actual women spies forced me to consider how I may have handled the different challenges Evelyn faced. Readers who loved The Alice Network or The Nightingale may enjoy this story as well. A big thank you to Netgalley and Ecco for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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