The Guardian of Lies by Kate Furnivall is a Cold War espionage thriller set in the South of France in 1953. The heroine, Eloïse Caussade, is a young woman who grew up on a farm in the Camargue, a marshy region of southern France, where her father raises bulls and horses. She has always hero-worshipped her older brother André, a spy for the CIA, and she has gone to Paris to follow in his footsteps. The CIA had turned her down before the action begins--we never really find out why, since Eloïse has the same skills as her brother. Possibly it is because she's a woman. Following that disappointment, she finds work at a detective agency, working for a female detective. The novel opens with a thrilling car chase through the streets of Paris, with Eloïse driving André away from his pursuing enemies. Her car crashes, and her face is scarred as a result. André is even more severely injured. His legs are damaged, requiring him to walk on crutches. Soon André is rescued from his hospital bed and taken home to the family's farm in the Camargue, where Eloïse joins him.
Things will never again be the same between the two siblings, who had always been very close, because André blames Eloïse for his injuries. Out of a sense of guilt, she becomes determined to find the people who caused the crash. This will not be easy. The area has become a hotbed of political tension because Eloïse's father has sold part of his land to the U.S. Air Force for a nuclear air base. The Nazi occupation during World War II is still fresh in people's minds, and they do not want foreign troops in the area, especially with nuclear weapons. There is a cell of Communist sympathizers who will resort to violence against those who are helping the Americans. Even Eloïse's family is divided in its loyalties. Her father and André believe the Americans will help save France from the threat of Communism, while Eloïse's younger brother, Isaac, is a Communist, and certain people suspect him of helping the Soviets. Interestingly, the whole family had helped the French Resistance during World War II, so these divisions have recently developed.
When Eloïse returns to the farm, she finds her father's prize bull has been slaughtered. Then a fire breaks out in the stables, killing several horses and injuring others, including Eloïse's beloved mare, Cosette. A demonstration against the air base in the nearby town turns violent, and one of the airmen is murdered. Some people suspect Eloïse's brother Isaac of being behind the violent events, but she has her doubts. She wants to help André in his work for the CIA and bring his attackers to justice, but soon she realizes parts of his story don't add up, and begins to suspect him of being a double agent.
A romance develops between Eloïse and Léon Roussel, a childhood friend who has become a policeman. Some of the chapters are written from Léon's point of view, so we see what he thinks of Eloïse as well as what she thinks of him. They are each hiding information from the other, and they are not sure they can fully trust each other. He warns her that André might be a double agent, but, in this web of lies and deceit, she does not know who is telling her the truth and who is lying. Then it becomes clear that someone at the air base is leaking information, including plans for a nuclear-powered aircraft, to the Soviets. Eloïse is determined to catch the spy. But will it be at the cost of someone she loves?
Kate Furnivall is a wonderful author of historical thrillers. I have read some of her previous books and enjoyed them all very much. (Full disclosure: I interviewed her once for Historical Novel Society, but it was long before this book was written.) The Guardian of Lies is one of her best. The plot takes many twists and turns, and as soon as I thought I had figured it out, it would take another turn. Eloïse is a strong heroine, intelligent, courageous, and loyal to those she loves, even when she has doubts about their activities and which side they're really on. The book has a beautiful setting in the South of France, an unusual area to set a Cold War thriller. I loved Furnivall's descriptions of the Camargue, the marshes, the trees, the rivers, the farmhouses, and, especially, the beautiful white horses. I looked up pictures of the area on the internet, and it looks just as Furnivall describes it. Also, as a fan of Les Misérables, both the novel and the musical, I appreciate all the references to the novel in this book. Eloïse's mare is named Cosette, and, when they were children, Eloïse and André used to send coded messages to each other, using Les Misérables as the key. This was how they developed their passion for codebreaking. I highly recommend The Guardian of Lies and, even though I don't want to give too much away, I think Furnivall left room for a sequel. I hope she will write one.
The Guardian of Lies is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.