Desperate times call for desperate measures in Rooney’s second novel (after Inside the Whale), a page-turning saga of spies, conflicted loyalty, and the grave consequences of good intentions, inspired by the true story of an Englishwoman, Melita Norwood, who was unmasked as a KGB spy in 1999 at age 87. When we first meet Joan Stanley, she is an elderly woman being visited by the British Security Service, who inform her she will be outed as a Soviet mole in the House of Commons in a few days’ time. As she is interrogated, the questions prompt flashbacks to Joan’s days at Cambridge in the late 1930s, where, as a physics student, she met the idealistic Leo Galich and his glamorous cousin Sonya, both communist sympathizers. The book shifts back and forth through time; as the MI5 interrogators press for a confession, Joan reminisces about falling in love with Leo, working at the Metals Research Facility, and learning coveted secrets about the making of the atomic bomb. She resists Leo’s encouragement to betray her country until the Americans drop the bomb on Hiroshima, and only after she makes the fateful decision to become a Soviet spy does she grasp the true nature of her new masters. Rooney’s prose is smooth and does not get in the way of her compelling, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story.
Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (July)