Aurore by Graham Hurley

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Aurore by Graham Hurley

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Denise Ramsay
Reviewed by Denise Ramsay
Summary: An ultimately enjoyable wartime thriller, if a little predictable and formulaic. Fast-paced - so perfect for those summer journeys or absorbing yourself on a wet afternoon.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781784977856

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History has taught us that wars can be won or lost on the strength of a country's intelligence and on the subversives who put country before self and undertake to collect and control that intelligence in a myriad of game-changing ways. Who better then to drop into Nazi-occupied France as an agent than a thirty mission veteran of Bomber Command whose pre-war incarnation as actor and Quaker have shaped a man with guile enough to make believe and trust enough to see his mission through to the end? Enter stage left, Billy Angell. Soon to be injured airman stranded in the French countryside and tasked with befriending a local woman responsible for the safety of resistants and with necessary ties to the upper echelons of the occupying German force. What's left for us to find out is whether Billy has talent enough to succeed in his new role as agent Thesp and make it back alive.

A long time reader of Second World War fiction, I was very much looking forward to getting my hands on this new thriller from the ever reliable Graham Hurley whose works - of crime fiction in particular - have served to delight many (try the DI Joe Faraday series if interested). I found the premise of the story to be somewhat perfunctory, but to be honest when it comes to thrillers I don't particularly mind that. Many a good thriller has been spoilt for me by trying to be too clever and innovative.

The plot for most of the book remains fairly formulaic. The young and enthusiastic undercover agent, the claustrophobic occupied French countryside, the damaged but inwardly strong heroine, the very British and caricatured spymaster, the sardonic SS officer and so the list goes on. Where the novel starts to win us round is with Hurley's brilliant dialogue and masterly management of pace. The story plays out in a dual narrative, told concurrently from the viewpoints of first Billy, then Helene. The result is a far-reaching quality to Hurley's storytelling which draws you into the landscape of World War Two and makes it hard to refrain from becoming invested in the outcome of these two characters' own personal wars.

In the stoic and self aware Helene, Hurley presents us with a kind of anti-heroine that it's hard to feel much compassion for. He keeps a trick or two up his sleeve for our man Billy which I actually really enjoyed and found to be one of the bigger successes of the book. It is in the supporting characters and their fate we become most embroiled. All the breadth of human character and emotion found to be lacking in the protagonists of the story are presented in the ageing Malin and surly Agnes among others, in a concentrated form with at times, truly heartbreaking results. More exploration of these characters would have been satisfying though one must concede that the effect upon the reader may not have been so great as it stands.

The story is told in three parts and actually the first two parts are told with a great sense of theatre and succeed in building that guttural, gasping tension we look for in a great thriller. I had high expectations therefore for the third and final part of the story. And if I'm honest, I was left disappointed. I have no problem with the obvious nor with the who'd have thunk it surprises that thrillers often supply. But, this failed to deliver on both counts. I was neither reassured by a predictably well travelled summation of events and the ubiquitous happy ending, nor was I left breathless with a twist in the tale that no-one saw coming. In addition, in the very end pages of the book Hurley attempts to shoe-horn in an episode born of sentiment that really doesn't sit well with the rest of the story. It all left me feeling a bit cold and dissatisfied.

Overall, I'd say Aurore is an enjoyable if ultimately predictable thriller of mostly high quality. It is only left wanting by its less than satisfactory conclusion. I refer to the old adage which teaches us that it's not the winning that counts, but the taking part. I believe this rather aptly sums up Aurore. A great way to spend a couple of afternoons, just don't hold your breath whilst you wait for the denouement - you'll end up with a red face and no welcome release. There are many great spy and war time thrillers out there. It is a genre which continues to reinvent itself as the sealed records, diaries and accounts of individual bravery come to light and more distance is gained from the period so that more measured and complete viewpoints may be taken. Among the books I'd recommend would be 'The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst which is a more traditional tale of pre-war espionage. For fans of the anti-heroes and subversives I'd look to Churchill's Rogue: Volume 1 (Rogues Trilogy) by John Righten.

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