The Diplomat’s Wife by Michael Ridpath [8/10]

Thriller/crime fiction/spy novel author Michael Ridpath has concocted a minor gem with “The Diplomat’s Wife.” In 1979, Phil, an earnest, impressionable, smart eighteen-year-old Englishman sets out on a Cold War European voyage of discovery with his “Grams” (grandmother), driving and assisting her as she retraces the touchstone places of her early days as a diplomat’s wife. The author is a beguiling writer who brings the travels to and atmospheres of England, Paris, Berlin, and other notable places to vibrant life. And the easygoing but immersive tone of Phil’s world is so, so seductive. Once the journey begins, Phil’s grandmother unleashes her unexpurgated personal history from 1936, the present intrudes dramatically on the past, and Phil is forced to grapple with all his emerging loyalties and senses of family. Meticulously plotted with an amazing sense of flow, The Diplomat’s Wife is a glorious one-evening repast that somehow reminded me of the spy thrillers I read in the 60s, 70s, and 80s: fiercely serious yet not bloodthirsty; endlessly intricate in a Casablanca way; and rich with Cold War lore. One of 2021’s must-reads.

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