NATHALIE Lafontaine’s luck has just run out. A neighbour in Paris, offended by her rebuffing of his unwanted advances, has made a complaint against her to the occupying Germans and now she is being hunted by the dreaded Gestapo.
After a desperate flight south through the countryside she is fortunate to escape onto a fishing boat that delivers her to Spain. There she is received by the British Consul-General in Madrid as Elizabeth de Mornay, codename ‘Cécile’, a highly trained member of the Special Operations Executive who has been working behind enemy lines in France.
Rather than send her home to London, however, her superiors assign Elizabeth yet another alias and divert her to theoretically neutral Portugal. The Portuguese ruler, António de Oliveira Salazar, is maintaining a delicate balancing act, welcoming refugees from both sides of the war and maintaining regular contact with the Allied countries while hedging his bets by turning a blind eye to Axis actions within his own border.
In Lisbon Elizabeth emerges with a new identity: that of Solange Verin, a French widow in need of safe shelter far from the dangers of the Nazi occupation of her homeland. Her brief is to meld into the expat German community – a relatively easy assignment for an attractive 20-something woman guaranteed to catch the attention of any number of German intelligence officers.
Lisbon, she quickly finds, is a city in which watching one’s neighbours is an everyday obsession. People appear – and, all too often, disappear – suddenly and without explanation.
Everywhere she goes brunette Solange is being observed – so much so that with the help of a wig she disguises herself as blonde Veronica Sinclair on occasion in order to evade the bufos who constantly monitor her movements on behalf of various parties, some more or less friendly, some definitely not.
Under such close scrutiny, can she actually achieve anything worthwhile?