Written by Claire Kendal — Some little girls dream of becoming a nurse when they grow up, or perhaps a soldier, a doctor or even the next Beyonce. Holly Lawrence? From an early age, as she snooped behind the sofa, she dreamt of becoming a spy. Well you know what they say… be careful what you wish for!
From early on in this book, we learn that Holly’s espionage ambitions fell at the first fence when she fluffed her interview with MI5. So why, five-and-a-half years later, is she living her life under an assumed name? It’s complicated, and about to get even more so when MI5 comes knocking at her door once more.
Holly is now Helen, working as a ward clerk in the paediatric unit of a hospital in Bath when she comes face to face with a past she thought she’d left behind. It’ll take you a while to put all the pieces together in a book that jumps back and forth at will, often with little rhyme or reason, within that five-and-a-half-year timeframe. Holly/Helen has plenty to hide – and so, it appears, have the people she interacts with.
When Holly made a run for it a couple of years ago she had to take her elderly grandmother along too. Grandma is in a nursing home and seems to have a tenuous grip on reality, but it is something that she does which brings Holly’s world tumbling around her. It’s clear she is running from her former husband, but what did he do and is he about to catch up with her?
While we try to sort out what is actually going on, Holly is approached by MI5. They have a job for her to do, and it soon becomes clear that this isn’t the first time they’ve called upon her services… It appears that domestic noir with a spot of spook skulduggery is on the cards.
Kendal piles on the tension as Holly gets pulled deeper and deeper into danger. And slowly, slowly we begin to see a clearer picture of what has gone before… or do we? That scattergun approach to timelining leaves you feeling a little disorientated at times and is a definite minus for the structure of a novel that shows plenty of promise.
Claire Kendal’s debut, The Book of You, was published in a flurry of publicity. We reviewed it here on CrimeFictionLover and found the story a little confused and confusing. The same applies to I Spy. Thankfully, Holly is a different kettle of fish to Clarissa in The Book of You. She certainly has more gumption, and that deep-seated obsession with all things espionage is about to stand her in good stead but still I found myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with this complicated character.
I much preferred the quirkiness of Holly’s Princess Anne-obsessed grandmother, and her best friend Milly is another well drawn addition to the cast list. Both offer the reader some welcome, original, light relief when the going gets hard, while other characters teeter dangerously on the edge of cliché.
So things move along a tad jerkily and the telling twist when it eventually happens seems a little far fetched, as does the final denouement, which offers a fully fledged “wait… what?” moment that doesn’t ring true. I Spy is a much better read than The Book of You, but this author hasn’t yet reached her full potential as a gripping storyteller.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars