“The Spies of Shilling Lane” by Jennifer Ryan
Kindle edition, 368 pages
Published June 4, 2019, by Crown
Great Britain is deeply entrenched in World War II, and it’s against this dismal backdrop that the haughty Mrs. Braithwaite receives divorce papers from her cheating husband. Because of the stigma surrounding divorced women in that day and age, Mrs. Braithwaite is forced to step down from her position as leader of her village’s Women’s Volunteer Services group.
Mrs. Braithwaite can’t figure out why her daughter Betty, who lives in London, isn’t responding to her letters informing her that the breakup of her parents is imminent. Fearing that the rumor mill may break the news first, Mrs. Braithwaite sets out for London only to find that Betty has been absent from her apartment for days. Fearing the worst — that Betty could have been hurt or killed during an air raid — Mrs. Braithwaite heads out to find her daughter and discovers she really doesn’t know her at all. Brought along for the search, quite unwillingly, is Betty’s timid landlord Mr. Norris. In the process of trying to track down Betty, Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris learn a lot about themselves and the changing world around them.
I was so excited to hear that Jennifer Ryan, author of one of my favorite historical fiction novels, “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir,” had a new book out. So perhaps my expectations for “The Spies of Shilling Lane” were unrealistically high from the outset. Regardless, this one just didn’t deliver the emotional gut-punch I experienced with “Chilbury.” A lot of the dialogue felt disingenuous and saccharine, delivering a rapid-fire series of teachable moments that seemed overdone.
Other reviewers have said they despised Mrs. Braithwaite at first, which was kind of the point. She wasn’t introduced as a likable character. But she was a good contrast with Mr. Norris, an accountant who is afraid of his own shadow, so these two main characters worked well for me in how they played off of each other. The character development was strong but didn’t always feel natural. There were a lot of interesting twists and turns not only in Mrs. Braithwaite and Betty’s quests to find and save one another, but also in the relationships between the mother and daughter and other characters.
Although my biggest gripe with this book is that Ryan laid on the sentiment just a little too thick at times, “The Spies of Shilling Lane” is an edge-of-your-seat yet heartfelt story that will keep readers guessing until the finish.
About the author
Jennifer grew up in the British countryside with a penchant for climbing trees and a wonderful grandmother who told her hilarious stories about the Second World War.
As an adult, she became a nonfiction book editor, first editing politics and economics at The Economist Books, and then moving on to the BBC, DK, and other publishers, editing books on health, cooking, wine, and history.
All this time, though, she harbored a longing to share her grandmother’s stories about the war, and so she embarked on an MA in fiction at Johns Hopkins University. The novel that she wrote while there–The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir–became a National Bestseller.
Jennifer’s second novel, The Spies of Shilling Lane, is based on the story of a twinkly-eyed old lady she interviewed about the war. The lady had worked for the British spy agency, MI5, defying her mother who instructed her to find a wealthy husband.
Please visit Jennifer’s website for more information and free giveaways.