Cold War Spy Thriller set in Paris and Scotland
- Book: Paris Spring
- Location: Paris
- Author: James Naughtie
Paris Spring is a classic cold war spy thriller. It is set in the Paris of 1968 (as the student revolution was in full swing) and at Altnabuie, a house in Scotland. It is nostalgic and le Carré-esque. Three brothers are involved – Will Flemyng, MI6 staff member based at the British Embassy in Paris, his brother Abel – in the US Secret Service, and the third brother Mungo who lives at the family home, Altnabuie.
An East German, Christof, clandestinely approaches Will on the Paris Metro – but is he planning to defect to the West or is he trying to entrap Will? Will investigates, but – because of something Christof said – he cannot be totally upfront with his boss and mentor, the ageing and increasingly infirm Freddy Craven. He works instead alongside Maria, a US ‘journalist’ and fellow spy…
The sense of location comes through loud and clear in Paris Spring – and James Naughtie without doubt knows Paris extremely well. From the restaurants to the back streets all is authentic. I was especially taken with his description of the Cimetière du Père Lachaise – one of the most iconic of all Paris landmarks (and one that is absolutely central to the story). And the sense of location loses nothing when the story moves to Altnabuie. James describes the family house and the surrounding countryside with real empathy and affection.
Paris Spring is a nostalgic book, written about a different age. It is set half way through the Cold War, Robert Kennedy is about to be assassinated, the Czech uprising against Russian rule is in full swing – and in Paris the students are taking to the streets. Nothing seemed as it had been… or, probably, as it should be. James captures the feeling of the times with insight.
Paris Spring is, and at the same time isn’t, a fast moving moving thriller with action to match. It is also a very thoughtful and well written book – with some wonderful descriptive writing that sometimes (and beneficially) slows the pace a little. Try ‘The wind was picking up from the west and the loch was streaked with ripples that shimmered and seemed to race towards them. On its fringes were the thick woods that brought an emerald softness to the glen – birch and alder, holly and fir – and on the rocky heights above the lochside a forest of blooms had burst into colour, as bright as splashes of ochre laid on the landscape by an artist’s hand.’
A book I would quite certainly recommend. Paris Spring is James’ second novel, and the second in which the Flemyng brothers feature. I have not read the first, The Madness of July. But it is now high on my TBR list.