Inspired by the true story of Melita Norwood, unmasked in 1999 (at 87) as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, this briskly paced and well-researched historical novel centers on the life of Joan Stanley, a young physicist at Cambridge during the early years of World War II. An impressionable girl from a small village, Joan quickly befriends the enigmatic Sonya and her charismatic cousin Leo, both of whom are known communist sympathizers with ties to Russia and Germany. As nations around the world falter before the rising tide of fascism, Joan’s colleagues in Cambridge race to perfect the one weapon guaranteed to end the war: the atomic bomb. As an attractive young woman in a male-dominated field, Joan occupies a unique position: she is knowledgeable enough to pass valuable information to the Soviets and innocuous enough to get away with it. Spurred by her love for Leo and her desire to see such dangerous knowledge dispersed to the many rather than hoarded by the few – especially after the atomic bomb is deployed under horrifying circumstances – Joan finds herself compromising her career, her conscience, and her only chance at a normal life. Deftly moving between flashbacks to pre-war Cambridge and present-day interrogations by MI5 agents, Rooney weaves a compelling novel that provides no easy answers. Against a harrowing backdrop of wartime paranoia, Joan must grapple with conflicting choices, questionable motives, shifting loyalties, and the slow erosion of a way of life she has long taken for granted.
Jennie Rooney was born in Liverpool in 1980. She studied history at the University of Cambridge and taught English in France before moving to London to work as an attorney. Her first novel, Inside the Whale, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.