Tinker, Tailor, Schoolmum, Spy by Faye Brann
Everyone has moments of wishing for a more exciting life at some point. In this lively novel, a stay at home mother Vicky Turnbull whose hands are full with her three children, her husband and constant pressure to join the PTA. The only time she feels excited by her life is a game of paintball at a birthday celebration. She remembers her past, before she met Chris and got pregnant with her eldest child. She remembers her original career, on the surface an art appraiser, in reality a highly trained spy with operational experience. Her skills are very developed, she was very good at her job, but made a costly mistake which made her decision to step back from active service easier.
This is a brilliantly written novel which combines humour with excitement, insight with realistic observations. There are some fantastic set pieces which have little to do with spying and intrigue, such as the horrors of a PTA Christmas fair, whereas there are serious moments of surprising activity. This book won the author a prize for comedy writing, and the incongruity of a woman with a very settled and sometimes mundane life being handed equipment and a serious mission works well on so many levels. The writing is relatively fast paced, there is evidence of research into the equipment and kit which Vicky has to get acquainted with, and yet the story never gets bogged down with too much explanation. The dialogue is funny and realistic, but the great strength of this novel is the characters, especially Vicky, who is painfully aware of her limitations after a long gap in service, yet is still desperately keen to act once given the opportunity. This is a book with so many surprises, recognisable elements and humour that I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book opens with a combat scene, in which Vicky expertly not only avoids being shot, but uses remarkable skill to shoot at others. Indeed, Brann writes “There was something a bit thrilling about firing a gun, even if it did only have paint in it”. After the contest, daily life resumes with the other parents at school, including Becky whose stated aim it is to get Vicky into the PTA, as well as the perfect Matisse, who seems to radiate an impressive and wealthy front. The lack of challenge in her life beyond the mundane tasks of parental responsibilities and a busy husband makes her remember the excitement of her job in the secret services. When she receives a mysterious message inviting her to meet with someone she remembers well, she at first rejects it, destroys what is sent, resigns herself to her current life. It soon becomes evident, however, that she cannot resist finding out more, and may well not be allowed to for long.
This is a book of contemporary life, humour and much more. It is exciting and well thought through, with a plot that is satisfyingly complex. The settings are well described, and even the minor characters are well and consistently written. I really enjoyed this book in its observation of London life and beyond, family life and the skills of someone in a secret role. It is exciting, funny and genuinely entertaining. It deserves a wide audience, and I recommend it to all fans of contemporary humorous writing with a real insight into everyday life with more than an element of danger.