In her latest novel A Treachery of Spies, Manda Scott weaves a high stakes cat-and-mouse tale that will keep you guessing until the very end
Orléans Sunday, 18 March 2018
From Picaut’s other side, a younger voice says, ‘Tell me they did that after she was dead?’
There is a brief silence. Lieutenant Daniel Evard, nephew to Orléans’ fire chief, is the new graduate who joined the team while Picaut was in hospital.
Petit-Evard keeps his hands in his pockets where he won’t wreak havoc with forensics, looks from Picaut to Rollo and back again, and says, ‘You’re not telling me she was still alive when they took out her tongue?’
‘I sincerely hope not.’
Start with what you know.
This close, it is clear that the victim had money and the taste to use it well.
Thoughtful, she says, ‘We need a name.’
Rollo bites the edge of his thumb. ‘Car’s locked. We haven’t got in yet.’ To the waiting techs, Picaut says, ‘Anyone?’
A blond forensic technician pushes through the throng and has the driver’s door open in less than the time it takes Rollo to light a cigarette. The photographers step in to do their work and then Picaut is free to crouch down and study the damage done by the knife.
The incision to her throat is clean-edged, which gives credence to Picaut’s hope that it was done post-mortem. She levers her pen between the teeth and confirms that the tongue has, indeed, been cut out and that yes, this too almost certainly took place after death; the blood is dark.
On a roll now, Picaut searches for an ID. The jacket pockets are empty, but there’s a leather bag in the passenger footwell in which she finds, amongst other things, a passport and two credit cards. Standing, she says, ‘She’s Madame Sophie Destivelle until we find anything to say otherwise.’
Petit-Evard opens his mouth, thinks for a moment, then shuts it again and starts a web search on his phone. Picaut is beginning to like him. Sylvie arrives from soothing the stationmaster. Her spiky hair is black these days, and she wears a short skirt, thick tights and big leather boots, relics of a year spent undercover in the anarchist networks south of the Loire.
Unless Petit-Evard is hiding more skills than he shows, she’s the best they have just now with tech. To her, Picaut says, ‘I want to know where she came from and where she was going. Get me anything and everything Sophie Destivelle has ever done.’
By any usual measures, Sophie Destivelle doesn't exist
‘She was beautiful, wasn’t she?’
In the past, Picaut would have had to wait for the victims’ families to provide pictures of them as they were in life, but Eric Masson is experimenting with software that can take the lifeless face of a subject and warm it, brighten it, open the eyes and give them spark, return the smile to unsmiling lips – and this is the result.
Sophie Destivelle is the epitome of elegance and grace. Her gaze is frank, open, knowing, and she is laughing at something Picaut can neither see nor hear. This is a woman of intelligence and wit.
Picaut walks up to her image so that they are nose to nose, eye to eye. ‘Why do I think I know her?’
‘Half of France will think they know her. The software says her bone structure is a hybrid of Fanny Ardant’s and Audrey Tautou’s. I tweaked the colour of her shirt to match one that Tautou wore for a photo shoot last year; it’s a better fit for your woman’s skin tone. If I took forty years off her, she’d be in Hollywood, earning millions.’
Eric makes a series of images, all almost-but-not-quite-exactly the same.
‘Something doesn’t feel right. She doesn’t look the kind of woman to die without a fight.’
‘She’s kept everything off the net. As far as Google is concerned, she’s the original invisible woman. She has a bank account registered in Lyon with five hundred thousand euros sitting in it – round figure, not a cent more or less. The passport and the driving licence were used to set up the account, and the two credit cards were issued from there, but we knew that already. Other than that, there is not a single record of her existence in any of the databases. She has no birth certificate; she hasn’t paid taxes. She isn’t registered as having married. She hasn’t been in hospital or been to the dentist or the doctor. By any usual measures, Sophie Destivelle doesn’t exist.’
Petit-Evard frowns. ‘That’s not possible.’
‘Oh, but it is,’ Rollo says, and there’s a lift to his voice that Picaut recognizes.
Petit-Evard doesn’t. ‘How?’ he asks.
‘It’s a cover name.’ Rollo is as happy as she’s seen him: his hair, his smile, his eyes, they shine. ‘The Americans are going to hate this. Ducat is going to hate this. We may end up hating it, too. But if Sylvie is right, then Sophie Destivelle is the cover name for a very old, very elegant lady spy.’
28 February 1944
‘How can I be useful?’
‘We do not want information from you. We just want this one thing: that you get close enough to Kramme that you can kill him.’
‘When you give the order.’
‘Exactly so.’ He leans forward, pokes the air with the stem of his pipe. ‘You will be tempted before that. But I tell you this: if you act too early, you will waste your life for no reason.’
She wants to say, I don't care. I cared once, and look what happened. I shall not make that mistake again.
What she actually says is, ‘You wish that I should hide like a slug beneath a stone and hope he does not recognize me?’
‘Of course not.’ He stands, paces to the door and back. In his own way, he is as agitated as she is. ‘He will know you the moment he sees you. And you, of course, will know him, although you must each pretend this is not the case, at least in public.’
Her tongue curls over. This is what hope tastes like and it is bitter-bright. Cautious, she says, ‘I will have to give him things.’
‘Information about my training.’
‘Tell him about the faked report cards. He’ll like those.’
‘Names. I will have to give him names.’ Real people, who will die real – and slow – deaths.
Laurence Vaughan-Thomas’s pale gaze meets hers. ‘Then choose those you give with care and do not grieve. This is war. A few must die that the many may survive. Two things he wants above all else, and must not have. The first is the date of the invasion. The second is the identity of the Patron of the Maquisards in Saint-Cybard. In the mountains, they have no équipes de tueurs. Instead, they have men who make Kramme look kind and each of them loves the Patron as a father. I would advise you not to risk their wrath.’
So this is their deal: walk a knife-edge for us, dance along a tightrope with death on either side, and we offer you a chance – a small chance: she is not stupid – to kill Kramme. Renege on our deal and we will see you skinned alive over a week by your own countrymen.
He is watching her. ‘Can you do this, Sophie Destivelle? Will you?’
She finds that she is smiling, and he is not. ‘I can,’ she says. ‘I will.’
With all of her heart, she believes this to be true.
More about the book
'The most exquisite story of heroism, deception, love and treachery you’ll find this year.' Simon Mayo
'This is a rich vein for fiction, and Scott does it more than justice, with this beautifully imagined, beautifully written, smart, sophisticated - but fiercely suspenseful - thriller.' Lee Child
A Treachery of Spies is an espionage thriller to rival the very best, a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse, played in the shadows, which will keep you guessing every step of the way.
An elderly woman of striking beauty is found murdered in Orleans, France. Her identity has been cleverly erased but the method of her death is very specific: she has been killed in the manner of traitors to the Resistance in World War Two.
Tracking down her murderer leads police inspector Inès Picaut back to 1940s France where the men and women of the Resistance were engaged in a desperate fight for survival against the Nazi invaders.
To find answers in the present Picaut must discover what really happened in the past, untangling a web of treachery and intrigue that stretches back to the murder victim's youth: a time when unholy alliances were forged between occupiers and occupied, deals were done and promises broken. The past has been buried for decades, but, as Picaut discovers, there are those in the present whose futures depend on it staying that way – and who will kill to keep their secrets safe...
'A fast-moving tightly-wrought thriller. The destination is in fact as unexpected as it’s satisfying - and very thought-provoking.' Robert Goddard
'The most exciting, involving thriller I've read in an age, and I can't recommend it highly enough.' Mick Herron
'A Treachery of Spies is a masterclass in thriller-writing. It is a heart-racing, heart-wrenching read, conceived with passion and executed with frightening skill. An awe-inspiring achievement.' Giles Kristian