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Red Joan [Paperback]

Jennie Rooney
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
Price: 5.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

2 Jan 2014

Cambridge University in 1937 is awash with ideas and idealists - to unworldly Joan it is dazzling.

After a chance meeting with Russian-born Sonya and Leo, Joan is swept up in the glamour and energy of the duo, and finds herself growing closer and closer to them both.

But allegiance is a slippery thing. Out of university and working in a government ministry with access to top-secret information, Joan finds her loyalty tested as she is faced with the most difficult question of all: what price would you pay to remain true to yourself?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0099575736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099575733
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A meditation on the secrets we keep... Red Joan's strength lies in the complex personal relationships that underpin the spying game... A powerfully-written exploration of the far-reaching consequences that even the smallest-seeming actions can have" (Kaite Welsh Literary Review)

"A brilliant spy novel, with an unlikely culprit and a deft, involving plot...tense, beautifully pitched and very moving novel" (Eithne Farry Marie Claire)

"Sensitive spy thriller. Finely detailed and resolutely sensitive. This excellent period novel still carries some considerable resonance in the age of Bradley Manning" (Andrzej Lukowski Metro)

"If you loved William Boyd's Restless, you'll enjoy this" (Viv Groskop Red)

"Compulsive reading... Rooney's approach it to make this a very personal story for Joan. There's love, loss, betrayal, friendship and secrets galore and it gives a believable insight on how one, normal person might be let to betray her country. The true mark of the story is that you find yourself thinking that you might have done exactly what Joan did in those circumstances" (The Bookbag)

Book Description

'A gripping, emotional and expertly plotted spy novel of the Cold War, inspired by a real story. Beautifully written and clever' KATE MOSSE

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Red Joan 24 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
British author Jennie Rooney was first inspired to write this story of spies within the British intelligence service when she read a newspaper article in 1999 about Melita Norwood, age eighty-seven, who had just been unmasked as the "most important and longest-serving Soviet spy of the Cold War era." Ms. Norwood's interview with the press and her appearance on television in the wake of this revelation was, according to Rooney, "rather economical with the truth, and not hugely remorseful," and Rooney had a hard time imagining the circumstances under which a seemingly innocent worker for several British labs would have willingly passed documents and research notes to Russia in the frantic race to develop nuclear weapons. She also wanted to understand why and how Norwood could betray her own country and still live quietly and comfortably, in the country whose secrets she had so treacherously revealed.

The result is a thoughtful and provocative novel, not a biography, in which a character named Joan Stanley leads a life somewhat similar to that of Melita Norwood in its external details, though the author asserts strongly that "Joan Stanley is not intended to be a representation of Melita Norwood." Likewise, she says, the character of Sonya Galich, who "controlled" Joan Stanley's spying, is similar in some ways to the real Ursula Beurton, Melitta Norwood's friend, whose code name was Sonya, though Sonya Galich is not based on Beurton's real life. Klaus Fuchs, a very real spy, collected information from British, American and Canadian labs, and the novel's fictional character Kierl behaves similarly, passing information to Russia, until Kierl, like Fuchs, is caught and convicted of spying in 1950.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good title, good cover, good book. 29 May 2013
By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER
When goody-two-shoes Joan goes up to Cambridge in 1937 to study science, she is soon led off the straight and narrow by new friends - the striking Russian-born Sonya and her charismatic cousin Leo. Falling head over heels for Leo leads Joan further astray, not just in terms of sex but also into the clutches of the passionate left-wing politics of pre-war Cambridge. All this is told in flashback during the course of several days of interviews with MI5 who finally catch up with Joan at the ripe old age of 85. Her QC son, unaware of his mum's secret past, is not best pleased - to put it mildly.

It's unusual when a dual-aspect narrative is equally engaging from both points of view and the two different time scales work very effectively here. But soon, the past takes precedence over the present with the author choosing to concentrate more on the events leading up to how Joan came to spy for the Soviets. This is rather a pity as the issue of legal retribution many decades after the event is an interesting one and could have been explored more fully, particularly here in the case of the deeply humanist Joan.

Jennie Rooney writes in a fine, unflashy way, putting Joan's case which the reader either accepts or not. Personally, I did not. When Joan's commitment to King and Country falters after America drops the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I couldn't really accept her volte face. In the fascinating end notes, Ms Rooney tells us that the story was inspired by Melita Norwood, the 87-year old 'spy who came in from the co-op'. Melita Norwood was a committed communist so her actions were understandable if not excusable. Although I like the title, it's inaccurate; Joan is not 'Red Joan' and therein lies the fundamental flaw in this otherwise enjoyable story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down
I absolutely LOVE this book. Couldn't put it down. This is compulsive reading, page turning and an absolute must. The author has you gripped from start to finish. Read more
Published 1 month ago by loveagoodbook13
4.0 out of 5 stars A piece of history
This tells the tale of Marxist sympathizers conned into thinking Russia was the way after WW2. A great tale of foolish youth and the impact it can have on your life
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Yawn
I was enticed by an interesting premise and encouraged to read on after a promising first chapter but it went rapidly downhill after that. Read more
Published 4 months ago by profilea2
4.0 out of 5 stars Red Joan
A fast paced, historical novel set at the time of WWII and the modern day exploring the relationship between the allies and the communists and women's role within the war. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jennifer Bolton
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice read
As an elderly woman, Joan is interrogated about her part in sharing secret's with Stalin's Russia during the war many years prior. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kym Hamer
5.0 out of 5 stars The antidote to spy stories
Very loosely based on a real person, Melita Norwood, but Rooney uses her considerable skills as a novelist to create an original character and really get inside her head to explain... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Reg Sheppard
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spy in the Name of Love
Jenny Rooney's third novel is loosely inspired by the story of Melita Norwood, unmasked in her eighties as a spy for the Russians. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kate Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Red Joan
For a hardback book its condition is ok but not of the best quality.I loved reading it though, a very good book
Published 5 months ago by Elisabeth Johnson
2.0 out of 5 stars Pale pink
After the interesting opening pages of this book I was disappointed in the lack of passion and lack of character development. Read more
Published 5 months ago by andy
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity
A British woman who spied for the Russians in the Cold War is apprehended only when she is in her 80s following the suicide of an eminent academic. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Curmudgeon
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