A Treachery of Spies, by Manda Scott (Transworld)
A Treachery of Spies is an espionage thriller to rival the very best, a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse, played in the shadows, which will keep you guessing every step of the way.
An elderly woman of striking beauty is found murdered in Orleans, France. Her identity has been cleverly erased but the method of her death is very specific: she has been killed in the manner of traitors to the Resistance in World War Two.
Tracking down her murderer leads police inspector Ines Picaut back to 1940s France where the men and women of the Resistance were engaged in a desperate fight for survival against the Nazi invaders.
To find answers in the present Picaut must discover what really happened in the past, untangling a web of treachery and intrigue that stretches back to the murder victim’s youth: a time when unholy alliances were forged between occupiers and occupied, deals were done and promises broken. The past has been buried for decades, but, as Picaut discovers, there are those in the present whose futures depend on it staying that way – and who will kill to keep their secrets safe…
Founder and inaugural Chair of the Historical Writers’ Association, Manda has an MA in sustainable economics and teaches on the Masters programme at Schumacher college. When not writing, she teaches shamanic dreaming, practices regenerative farming and works with the local Extinction Rebellion in an effort to mitigate the effects of the sixth mass extinction.
THRILLER OF THE MONTH ‘Superb . . . a blend of historical imagination and storytelling verve reminiscent of Robert Harris.’ The Sunday Times
‘The most exciting, involving thriller I’ve read in an age, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.’ Mick Herron
‘A Treachery of Spies is the equal of Charlotte Gray in its insights into the period and, I would say, beats it for sheer excitement… one of the most gripping spy stories I have ever read.’ Jake Kerridge, S Magazine
‘This is a rich vein for fiction, and Scott does it more than justice, with this beautifully imagined, beautifully written, smart, sophisticated – but fiercely suspenseful – thriller.’ Lee Child
‘Ingeniously plotted and wonderfully written.’ Antonia Senior, The Times
‘The most exquisite story of heroism, deception, love and treachery you’ll find this year.’ Simon Mayo
‘A fast-moving tightly-wrought thriller. The destination is in fact as unexpected as it’s satisfying – and very thought-provoking.’ Robert Goddard
‘A Treachery of Spies is a masterclass in thriller-writing. It is a heart-racing, heart-wrenching read, conceived with passion and executed with frightening skill. An awe-inspiring achievement.’ Giles Kristian
I am delighted to be able to share an extract with you now:
A Treachery of Spies (Bantam Press) by Manda Scott
Christ, but there’s a lot of blood.
This is the first thing Picaut sees as she pulls to a halt in the Gare des Aubrais car park and angles her headlights onto the crime scene – that it is not a scarf at the dead woman’s throat, but a sheet of blood, made black in the uncertain light, with spatter marks across the windscreen. It’s been a while since Picaut has seen blood. She has forgotten the visceral power of a violent death. This one jolts her, so that for a long moment she is locked as the woman in the car opposite is locked: eye to eye, face to face, life to death and back again.
The second thing she sees, the thing that stays with her as she steps out of her car and walks over to the gathering group of officers and scene techs, is how peaceful the woman looks amidst the carnage, how hauntingly beautiful, and old enough to be her grandmother.
Rollo is already here, standing by his own car, hunched against the dark and drizzle. He’s grown more shadowed in the past year or two, stronger. His hair is longer than it used to be, brushing his shoulders, and his black leather jacket has suffered far worse weather than this. ‘Two to the chest, one to the head,’ he says by way of a welcome. ‘I know men who would kill for a grouping like that.’
From anyone else, this would be a joke, but Rollo doesn’t make jokes about guns. So that they’re clear, Picaut asks, ‘Professional hit?’ and Rollo, nodding, says, ‘We’ll see the details better when the lights are up.’ The lights are on their way. From deep in the dark, a generator heaves into life, arc lights fizz and pop, and, all of a sudden, liquid light pours over the car and the woman sitting behind the wheel, who has been—
From Picaut’s other side, a younger voice says, ‘Tell me they did that after she was dead?’
There is a brief silence. Lieutenant Daniel Evard, nephew to Orléans’ fire chief, is the new graduate who joined the team while Picaut was in hospital.
There was a time when infants faced with scenes of wanton destruction retired behind a wall to vomit. Petit- Evard keeps his hands in his pockets where he won’t wreak havoc with forensics, looks from Picaut to Rollo and back again, and says, ‘You’re not telling me she was still alive when they took out her tongue?’
‘I sincerely hope not.’
Because this is what the lights have shown: that it is not lipstick around her mouth any more than it was a scarf at her throat. Someone, clearly, has been busy with a knife. Remarkably, it has done nothing to mar her beauty.
She has no name yet, this woman who shows such grace in death; Picaut knows nothing beyond what she can see through the windscreen, spectacular as it is. She takes her hands from her pockets and flexes her fingers. There’s a particular sensation in the first moments of a case that marks it for the duration and this one feels like standing at the edge of a high cliff in a thunderstorm with a hang glider strapped to her back. She has dreamed of this moment. It has not let her down.
Start with what you know.
The stationmaster discovered the victim when he came to begin his shift. In an otherwise empty lot in a sleepy northern suburb of Orléans,
he parked his Renault behind the only other vehicle in the car park and strolled over to find out what train the lady thought she was going to catch at five fifteen on a March morning.
He is currently being interviewed by Lieutenant Sylvie Ostheimer, the final member of Picaut’s new team, and the one who can best be trusted not to traumatize him further.
The car is an ageing Citroën BX, in nearly mint condition. The victim is sitting on the driver’s side – which does not, of course, prove that she was driving – with her right hand on the wheel. Her left, on closer inspection, hangs down at her side. Most people neither sit nor drive like this, but the window controls are in the armrest and the window has been lowered (or raised?) to leave open a gap of around a hand’s breadth.
Judging by the angles of the gunshots, they were all directed through this small space, which is the point Rollo was making about the skill of the shooter. This is not a blundering amateur.
The car door is closed, but it must, at some point, have been open because, while you might shoot through that gap, you couldn’t reach in to cut out someone’s tongue: that takes two hands. Picaut makes a note in her phone. To Rollo, she says, ‘We need UV images of the blood patterns outside the car before anyone else goes near it.’
He gives half a shrug that might be an apology. ‘We did that before the lights went up.’
Right. Rollo’s a captain now and he’s been leading his own team for nearly a year. It’s amazing, really, that he took the offer to come back and work with Picaut. He and Sylvie are the only ones from her old team who did. The rest have gone on to other things. In time, doubtless, Picaut’s world will feel less truncated by their loss.
She turns back to the car. Freed from the need to preserve the scene, she moves round for a closer look. The woman has clear skin, not smooth, but with the translucent, porcelain quality that the fortunate carry into old age. The shots that so impressed Rollo have made neat, round, nine-millimetre holes and the one at her temple has faint powder burns tattooed at the margins. Whoever it was got very close. Does that mean they knew each other, shooter and victim?
For a time of death, Picaut eases her hand in through the open window to feel the old lady’s brow. Her skin is cool, but not cold, and the muscles of her face, when pressed, are not yet rigid. An accurate time will have to wait for the pathologist, but at her best estimate the shooting took place in the first hour after midnight.
So the killer used a silencer. An entire estate of single-storey cottages nestles less than fifty metres away, inhabited by the kind of respectable, retired middle-class couples who head for bed at ten o’clock and sleep lightly: three shots in the middle of the night would have had them reaching for their phones by the dozen.
This close, it is clear that the victim had money and the taste to use it well. Her silver-grey suit is linen, cleanly cut. The pearls at her neck glow softly under the arc lights. Her hair is finely white, spun sugar rising sparsely from the pinked crown of her head. It’s this that ages her, the sparseness of her hair; a bit thicker and she could be in her seventies. As it is, Picaut puts her closer to ninety. There’s still something hauntingly familiar about the shape of her face, the fine, clear angles of her cheeks.
Thoughtful, she says, ‘We need a name.’
Rollo bites the edge of his thumb. ‘Car’s locked. We haven’t got in yet.’
To the waiting techs, Picaut says, ‘Anyone?’
A blond forensic technician pushes through the throng and has the driver’s door open in less than the time it takes Rollo to light a cigarette.
The photographers step in to do their work and then Picaut is free to crouch down and study the damage done by the knife. The incision to her throat is clean- edged,which gives credence to Picaut’s hope that it was done post-mortem. She levers her pen between the teeth and confirms that the tongue has, indeed, been cut out and that yes, this too almost certainly took place after death; the blood is dark.
On a roll now, Picaut searches for an ID. The jacket pockets are empty, but there’s a leather bag in the passenger footwell in which she finds, amongst other things, a passport and two credit cards. Standing, she says, ‘She’s Madame Sophie Destivelle until we find anything to say otherwise.’
An extract taken from: A Treachery of Spies (Bantam Press) by Manda Scott
Shortlisted for The McIlvanney Prize 2019. Winner to be announced at the Bloody Scotland opening night reception on Friday 20 September. For festival tickets and information www.bloodyscotland.com