The war may be over in 1953 but deep in the vast plains of south-west France, a new kind of conflict is stirring up unrest and violence.
As the United States of America and Soviet Russia battle for nuclear dominance, secrets, lies and rival allegiances become more deadly by the day, and one farming family faces being torn apart forever.
Historical novelist Kate Furnivall, author of eleven powerful books, including last year’s gritty, gut-wrenching The Survivors, explores some of the peripheral tensions in the 20th century’s notorious nuclear arms race in a brilliant, beautifully observed and suspense-packed tale of espionage, deceit, daring and courage.
Furnivall, who was inspired to write her first book, The Russian Concubine, when she discovered the story of her grandmother – a White Russian refugee who fled to China from the Bolsheviks – has become the queen of thrilling adventure stories, harnessing romance, danger and episodes of fascinating real history using both her knowledge and her imaginative prowess.
In The Guardian of Lies, she casts her keen eye over the Camargue area of France in the Cold War era as one determined young woman sets out to discover who betrayed her beloved brother, and finds herself caught up in a perilous web of lies that makes her question her own family’s loyalties.
In 1953, the fragile peace between the West and Soviet Russia hangs on a knife edge as 23-year-old Eloïse Caussade leaves her home on a large bull farm near Arles in the Camargue to follow André, the older brother she has always idolised. André, six years her senior, has become an intelligence officer, working for the CIA in Paris to help protect France from the Communist threat.
Exchanging the strict confines of her widower father’s farm for freedom in Paris, Eloïse’s world comes alive almost overnight. Resourceful and intelligent, she soon finds work as a detective with a private investigation agency owned by Clarisse Favre, a classy Parisian woman ‘as sharp as a razor or as soft as her Dior powder puff.’
But Eloïse’s hopes and dreams fall apart when André is seriously hurt in an accident which she believes happened as a result of her own decisions and actions. Unable to work, André returns to their father’s farm where he grows increasingly morose, and Eloïse, weighed down by a sense of guilt and responsibility for his injuries, decides to find the man she believes tried to kill her brother.
But when Eloïse returns to the farm, she finds her home town in a state of turmoil. Those who are angry at the construction of an American airbase nearby, with its lethal nuclear armaments, confront those who support it, and anger flares into violence, stirred up by Soviet agents.
Throughout all this discordance, Eloïse learns who she can and can’t trust, and finds an unexpected ally in Andre’s childhood friend and local police captain, Léon Roussel. But just who is working for Soviet Intelligence and who is not, and on which side do her family’s loyalties really lie?
Furnivall knows how to reel in her readers and this compelling story, which moves from the contrasting bright lights and shadowy corners of 1950s Paris to the humid heat, cypress trees and vineyards of the Rhône delta, is brimming with mystery, intrigue and spine-tingling suspense.
This is an author adept at capturing not just the history and geography of a place but its people, its culture, and its social and political affairs. The volatility of two sparring superpowers, each eager to establish its pre-eminence and each offering conflicting ideals and loyalties to the war-battered French, is superbly portrayed.
Into this threatening maelstrom of unrest and anger steps the smart, fearless and forthright Eloïse, a complex, caring young woman driven by both her conscience and her strong family fidelties to undertake a mission that is littered with menace and misinformation.
Her burgeoning relationship with Léon, the dedicated police captain with an appealing down-to-earth wisdom and sense of honour, is one of the highlights of this fast-paced, all-encompassing adventure.
Authentic, exciting, and well-researched, The Guardian of Lies shines a spotlight on a rarely uncovered corner of Cold War history.
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £20)