I read Justine Saracen’s Waiting for the Violins because it’s chockfull of hearty elements that a make up a good tale: espionage, clever women, French poetry, and romance. Set during WW2, an English nurse, Antonia Forrester, is injured at Dunkirk. During her recovery, her past experience and French skills catch the attention of the British government, and she’s offered a position as a spy in occupied Brussels. She accepts. Meanwhile, Sandrine Toussaint, a Belgian, is working on a Resistance movement of her own.
The book starts immediately on a note of high action, and the excitement continues throughout. It delivers the essentials of an espionage story – full of the ploys, traps, and deceptions that are a pleasure for the reader to decipher. However, it’s also held back by its mediocre prose. The writing is never bad, certainly, but it is a tad stale. Saracen makes what feels like “newbie mistakes” in terms of the narrative. Most of the emotions are told rather than shown, and the point-of-view sometimes switches between omniscient and third person, particularly at the beginning of chapters, when an omniscient narrator will neatly outline the book’s current timeline to the reader before dropping the reader back inside a character’s head (i.e. “While Sandrine was doing this, Antonia was doing this. Antonia thought that…” In cases like this, the reader is apparently in Antonia’s head – but if that’s true, how could Antonia possibly know what Sandrine’s doing?).
There are some general faults in the pacing as well. Sometimes the twists – although ingenious and exciting – are delivered too quickly. On the other hand, Saracen has clearly done her research. The setting and era are woven into every page, and just as the characters’ lives revolve around the war and Resistance, the reader, too, is never permitted to forget that tragedies are taking place all across Europe.
My favorite part, of course, is the romance. A pet peeve of mine is when I can’t fully figure out why two characters would be attracted to one another in a romance story. It was no mystery with Sandrine and Antonia: they’re both brave, self-sacrificing, and very, very smart. Obviously they have chemistry. And in tune with their self-sacrificing natures, they’re also willing to set aside their passion when it’s more appropriate to acknowledge the darkness happening all around them. Not to say that they never get their moments.
So while Waiting for Violins isn’t a flawless book, it’s worth a read. If you like books about WW2 or spies, or simply like reading about incredibly clever and brave women, this is a story for you.