Based on the real life story of Melita Norwood, an eighty seven year old woman who was unmasked as the KGB's longest serving British spy in 1999, this is a flawless novel. Joan Stanley is a loving grandmother, living quietly in the suburbs, but she has a dark secret and it is about to come and haunt her. When she reads of the death of her old acquaintance Sir William Mitchell, she realises "they" have finally come for him, after all these years. If they came for him, they will come for her and, indeed, she is soon arrested and interrogated by MI5.
This novel swops effortlessly between the present, and Joan's interrogation, and flashbacks to her earlier life and her meeting with exotic Sonya Galich at Cambridge in 1937. We read of Sonya and her cousin, Leo, a known communist sympathiser. Joan is a naive young girl, but a totally sympathetic character. Everything that happens to her is realistic, from her crush on Leo to her wartime work in atomic research, working with Professor Max Davis. Throughout the entire book, Joan has a very personal viewpoint - good and bad, individual responsibility and love for the people she knows. One of the most poignant relationships is actually between Joan and her son, Nick, and her guilt at disrupting his life and her desire to protect him. In the end, you feel Joan may have been misguided, guilty or innocent, but she is basically a good person. This is a moving and intelligent book, beautifully written and totally believable. It would be an excellent, thought provoking novel for reading groups and I recommend it highly.