The Imitator by Rebecca Starford
In writing this review I simply can’t ignore the fact that 2021 will mark the 70th anniversary of the defections of Soviet agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean across the Iron Curtain. Both were high-ranking double agents embedded in the upper echelons of the British civil service. These two, along with Antony Blunt, John Cairncross and Kim Philby, were all recruited while at Cambridge University in the 1930s. The growing threat of fascism, civil war in Spain and the decline of the aristocracy in the UK were all factors that drove men and women into the clandestine world, and the shadow cast by World War II and the Cold War continues to influence writers.
Over the last decade, there has been a noticeable presence of female voices in the espionage fiction genre, including Jennie Rooney, Charlotte Philby (Kim Philby’s granddaughter), Kate Atkinson and Natasha Walter. Rebecca Starford’s new World War II spy thriller, The Imitator, is another welcome addition to the espionage canon, capturing the look and bustle of wartime London, as well as the anxiety and dread associated with the occupation. Bored of her job in ladies’ fashion, Evelyn, a young Oxford graduate, embarks on a new career as a spy working for MI5. Evelyn never did quite fit into the social circles at boarding school or university, and the mask-wearing and deceit in these settings make her a natural candidate for clandestine work. However, the deeper the infiltration, the greater the cost, and the harder it is to distinguish friend from foe, obscuring true objectives. Readers will know of Starford through her work as co-founder of Kill Your Darlings and her memoir about bullying, Bad Behaviour. The Imitator is a bold character study from a versatile and adept writer.