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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. 5 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. 4 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. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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!!

  7. 5 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.

  8. 5 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 4 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 5 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

  15. 4 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 5 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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    What Fern Reads

    Rounded up from 4.5 stars. Evelyn Varley wins a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school where it is very clear she does not fit in. In order to remedy this, Evelyn hides her true self and her opinions and by the time she graduates from Oxford in 1939, has perfected her performance. As war looms, Evelyn finds herself recruited to MI5 and she is assigned to the dangerous task of infiltrating an underground group of Nazi sympathisers working to form an alliance with Germany. When a close friend i Rounded up from 4.5 stars. Evelyn Varley wins a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school where it is very clear she does not fit in. In order to remedy this, Evelyn hides her true self and her opinions and by the time she graduates from Oxford in 1939, has perfected her performance. As war looms, Evelyn finds herself recruited to MI5 and she is assigned to the dangerous task of infiltrating an underground group of Nazi sympathisers working to form an alliance with Germany. When a close friend is caught up in her mission, Evelyn’s loyalty is pushed to breaking point, forcing her to make an impossible decision. I was instantly intrigued by this novel. I would describe it as a solid genre blend of historical fiction and suspense. 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗜𝗺𝗶𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗼𝗿 takes on espionage and is compelling and hard to put down. Evelyn’s character was strong and independent, thrown completely into the deep end when she joins the War Office. I personally loved how descriptive the author was about the places in this story - it felt like I had been transported! There’s a real element of this being a psychological novel as well as a WW2 piece. It is a character study that explores how well you know someone, how well you know yourself.

  22. 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. 3.5! Thank you #NetGalley and Ecco for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Schoen

    This is a review of an ARC from NetGalley. Middle class, small town girl Evelyn Varley wins a scholarship to an elite boarding school in pre-war England. From there she heads to Oxford, and is later recruited to MI-5 and given the task of infiltrating a group of Nazi sympathizers. Years later, confronted by an old friend, she comes to terms with how her actions changed not just the outcome of the war, but her own conscience. This was...fine. The book flashes between pre- and post-war timelines, wh This is a review of an ARC from NetGalley. Middle class, small town girl Evelyn Varley wins a scholarship to an elite boarding school in pre-war England. From there she heads to Oxford, and is later recruited to MI-5 and given the task of infiltrating a group of Nazi sympathizers. Years later, confronted by an old friend, she comes to terms with how her actions changed not just the outcome of the war, but her own conscience. This was...fine. The book flashes between pre- and post-war timelines, which is meant to build suspense. But the pacing is off, and the book drags so much at the beginning that the suspense is just irritating, and the ending is too rushed to deliver much of an emotional impact. The main premise also seems a bit strained - Evelyn is supposedly torn about turning in people she knows well, or comes to know well while undercover. But while you might be able to empathize with people who spied for the Nazis pre-war, surely a British person who lived through WWII wouldn't *still* be on their side in the 1950s?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Holly Johnson

    This novel from Rebecca Starford was full of history and intrigue. I immediately was drawn to this title because the concept of reading about spies has always fascinated me. Taking place between 1940 and 1948, Evelyn Varley found herself working for counterintelligence and attempting to make a difference in the war effort. I found her newfound job as a spy to be so interesting as she tried to gain valuable information from a secret society. The beginning of this book was slightly slow for me, bu This novel from Rebecca Starford was full of history and intrigue. I immediately was drawn to this title because the concept of reading about spies has always fascinated me. Taking place between 1940 and 1948, Evelyn Varley found herself working for counterintelligence and attempting to make a difference in the war effort. I found her newfound job as a spy to be so interesting as she tried to gain valuable information from a secret society. The beginning of this book was slightly slow for me, but I was immediately hooked once Evelyn starting to find out more and more. I was very shocked by the ending and the sudden plot twist. This historical fiction novel was definitely very intriguing with a hint of suspense and danger. I definitely enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone who loves reading about this time period. Thank you to Netgalley and Ecco for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Janine Rainbow

    I had a major problem with this book....gripped by suspense and overwhelmed with dread right from the get-go....I gobbled it up quicker than a bowl of cocoa pops on an empty stomach! When what I should have done, is take my time. The Imitator deserves nothing less than to be savoured.... every last morsel of delicious prose relished slowly. And if the temptation to devour besets....like me, you'll have to read it twice in a row! Yes it's a page-turner...and the writing is glorious...but what I e I had a major problem with this book....gripped by suspense and overwhelmed with dread right from the get-go....I gobbled it up quicker than a bowl of cocoa pops on an empty stomach! When what I should have done, is take my time. The Imitator deserves nothing less than to be savoured.... every last morsel of delicious prose relished slowly. And if the temptation to devour besets....like me, you'll have to read it twice in a row! Yes it's a page-turner...and the writing is glorious...but what I enjoyed most about it was the writer's treatment of interpersonal relationships. The way in which she captures the poignancy that often exists only with those closest to us, calls to mind the great Somerset Maugham and his uncanny ability to depict such exquisite sadness. So my advice is bury yourself slowly in this book as you wantonly succumb to its seductions of time and place..... and ensure you linger over the poetry that shapes Evelyn's dark and tortured world.... as long as you can.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lady Reads

    While this book had so much of the things I like, I can say there wasn't anything that hooked me Evelyn is a British young woman who's trying to pull herself out of the lower working class by her bootstraps, which means condemning her parent's simple lifestyle and making herself a pretty facade to show to all the rich and powerful people she rubs elbows with. This, I think, is why Evelyn is never likable and why as a reader, I barely cared what happened to her. She is always rather wispy...not kn While this book had so much of the things I like, I can say there wasn't anything that hooked me Evelyn is a British young woman who's trying to pull herself out of the lower working class by her bootstraps, which means condemning her parent's simple lifestyle and making herself a pretty facade to show to all the rich and powerful people she rubs elbows with. This, I think, is why Evelyn is never likable and why as a reader, I barely cared what happened to her. She is always rather wispy...not knowing who she is, not loving deeply, getting in over her head when standing up for her own opinions would've been a better option. The love story isn't central or compelling. I'm sure the real women this book was based off of had just as many self doubts as Evelyn but a hell of a lot more gumption.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stefanie

    There's a lot to enjoy about this book--spy games, intrigue, and unique characters. This novel does fall flat on the plot. While I'm able to suspend belief while reading fiction, the fact that Evelyn insinuates herself deeply into a terroristic fascist group entrusted with US/UK diplomatic cables based off of 3-4 meetings beggars belief. This novel would have benefited greatly from fleshing out how she grew her relationship with her Russian contacts, more close calls, and more background. The wi There's a lot to enjoy about this book--spy games, intrigue, and unique characters. This novel does fall flat on the plot. While I'm able to suspend belief while reading fiction, the fact that Evelyn insinuates herself deeply into a terroristic fascist group entrusted with US/UK diplomatic cables based off of 3-4 meetings beggars belief. This novel would have benefited greatly from fleshing out how she grew her relationship with her Russian contacts, more close calls, and more background. The wild culmination of her spy career felt unbelievable as well. I'm not one that needs a white knight of a protagonist, but I think more time could have been spent explaining her point of view in order to make her a little more relatable. This novel was provided by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Amato

    Thank you Netgalley and the Publisher Ecco for the opportunity to read this book. I have read my fair share of Historical Fiction and specifically WWII themed fiction. I appreciate the story in An Unlikely Spy, it is a side of WWII that I haven't seen conveyed in fiction. An Unlikely Spy examines the time leading up to WWII in England known as the Phony War, Evelyn Varley is recruited in MI5 and is asked to infiltrate a ladies group of likely German sympathizers to gather intel for the British G Thank you Netgalley and the Publisher Ecco for the opportunity to read this book. I have read my fair share of Historical Fiction and specifically WWII themed fiction. I appreciate the story in An Unlikely Spy, it is a side of WWII that I haven't seen conveyed in fiction. An Unlikely Spy examines the time leading up to WWII in England known as the Phony War, Evelyn Varley is recruited in MI5 and is asked to infiltrate a ladies group of likely German sympathizers to gather intel for the British Government. Evelyn is required to make decisions to save her country or save those people close to her. Her decisions live with her even after the war has ended. They say don't judge a book by the cover I was drawn to the book based on the cover and title. I was engrossed with this book, although I felt the ending was awkwardly revealed, I was satisfied with how it ended.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Amato

    Thank you Netgalley and the Publisher Ecco for the opportunity to read this book. I have read my fair share of Historical Fiction and specifically WWII themed fiction. I appreciate the story in An Unlikely Spy, it is a side of WWII that I haven't seen conveyed in fiction. An Unlikely Spy examines the time leading up to WWII in England known as the Phony War, Evelyn Varley is a young Briton who is recruited in MI5 and is asked to infiltrate a ladies group of likely German sympathizers to gather i Thank you Netgalley and the Publisher Ecco for the opportunity to read this book. I have read my fair share of Historical Fiction and specifically WWII themed fiction. I appreciate the story in An Unlikely Spy, it is a side of WWII that I haven't seen conveyed in fiction. An Unlikely Spy examines the time leading up to WWII in England known as the Phony War, Evelyn Varley is a young Briton who is recruited in MI5 and is asked to infiltrate a ladies group of likely German sympathizers to gather intel for the British Government. Evelyn is required to make decisions to save her country or save those people close to her. Her decisions live with her even after the war has ended. They say don't judge a book by the cover I was drawn to the book based on the cover and title. I was engrossed with this book, although I felt the ending was awkwardly revealed, I was satisfied with how it ended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chelsey

    Evelyn has always made her own way, working hard to land herself in a prestigious private school and figuring out how to fit in amongst peers who would turn their noses at her. She's had to rely on her intellect, ambition, and knack for self-preservation. When she lands a job at the War Office in London, she hopes to contribute to the protection of Britain and the fight against Hitler's rising agenda. When that entails going undercover as a spy, what will she do when her beliefs clash with the p Evelyn has always made her own way, working hard to land herself in a prestigious private school and figuring out how to fit in amongst peers who would turn their noses at her. She's had to rely on her intellect, ambition, and knack for self-preservation. When she lands a job at the War Office in London, she hopes to contribute to the protection of Britain and the fight against Hitler's rising agenda. When that entails going undercover as a spy, what will she do when her beliefs clash with the people who have helped raise her up? The WWII London setting is nicely developed, but something about this story didn't resonate with me. I listened to it on audiobook, which might've contributed, but the jumps forward and backward in time felt a bit jarring to me. This is a decent historical fiction title, but I found myself more invested in Evelyn as a character than in the plot itself.

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