Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Devil Darling Spy"

Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back in the war-mad seventies–a hometown largely demolished and rebuilt in his lengthy absence. People tend to dismiss what comes more easily to them as unworthy, so it took him far too long to realize he was a writer. He worked as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist in the noughties, before fulfilling a childhood dream to join the LEGO® Group in 2010. He left after eight years, and an unconscionable amount of money spent in the staff store, to become a full-time author. A lover of costume parties, he is an avid gamer, soccer fan, toddler wrangler, and warrior for truth and social justice. Although a devout urbanite, he has somehow ended up surrounded by fields in a house full of LEGO® bricks and musical instruments, with his two diversely aged children, Nuyorican soul mate, and neurotic, fluffy dog. Orphan Monster Spy was his debut novel, and he has still not learned to touch-type.

Killeen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Devil Darling Spy, and reported the following:
When I did the Page 69 test for Orphan Monster Spy, Sarah’s first battle with the Nazis, I was sceptical, but pretty amazed at the result. That page contained the moment where the Captain is confirmed as a spy as a result of Sarah’s investigation. She is given a new “Aryan” life – Ursula Haller. She ceases to be the orphan from that point, marking the end of the “origin story”, with her mission about to be offered for the first time.

Alas, Devil Darling Spy does not provide anything so neat and clear cut. Sarah meets someone from her past and we are given a flashback to her troubled childhood, at a point where she is once more in dire peril. She is more emotionally isolated than ever before in this sequel, yet here finds not just a friendly face, but a significant one.
Sarah clung on to Atsuko for a long minute, the mission, the danger, all forgotten.

“How are you here?” Sarah asked finally, blinking back the tears. As ever, angry at their ungovernable wantonness. “Of all the people, in all the world—”

“Wait a minute, that was my question.” Atsuko laughed, letting go of her. “Your mother has you working for the Nazis?”

“My mother died,” Sarah said flatly.

“I’m sorry. She was a ... good woman,” Atsuko managed.

“You don’t have to say that.”

“No? Well, she tried, but she drank like a ... brush maker? Is that what Germans say?”

“Yes, that’s the phrase.” Sarah felt she was being disloyal, felt she should not be saying anything negative, even to someone who knew the truth.

The truth.
Sarah’s world is consumed with secrecy and layers of obfuscation. Yet here she meets an old carer in the present who knows Sarah’s real identity, knows her past, and understands some of her damage. It has been a year since Sarah has met anyone as herself. This woman also knows of her Jewishness. That is not yet a death sentence in Nazi Germany but being discovered pretending to be Aryan could well be. Sarah is at her most vulnerable, yet feels home, somewhere safe in this woman’s arms. She wants to be able to trust someone.

Is that a strength? A weakness? Time will tell.
Follow Matt Killeen on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Orphan Monster Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue