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Tuesday 13 February 2024

My Coffee Pot Book Club guest: Deborah Swift and The Shadow Network

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About the Book
Book Title: The Shadow Network

Series: Secret Agent Series (but can be read as a stand-alone)

Author: Deborah Swift

Publication Date: 13th February 2024

Publisher: HQ Digital

Page Length: 376

Genre: Historical Fiction / WW2

One woman must sacrifice everything to uncover the truth in this enthralling historical novel, inspired by the true World War Two campaign Radio Aspidistra…

England, 1942: Having fled Germany after her father was captured by the Nazis, Lilli Bergen is desperate to do something pro-active for the Allies. So when she’s approached by the Political Warfare Executive, Lilli jumps at the chance. She’s recruited as a singer for a radio station broadcasting propaganda to German soldiers – a shadow network.

But Lilli’s world is flipped upside down when her ex-boyfriend, Bren Murphy, appears at her workplace; the very man she thinks betrayed her father to the Nazis. Lilli always thought Bren was a Nazi sympathiser – so what is he doing in England supposedly working against the Germans?

Lilli knows Bren is up to something, and must put aside a blossoming new relationship in order to discover the truth. Can Lilli expose him, before it’s too late?

Set in the fascinating world of wartime radio, don’t miss The Shadow Network, a heart-stopping novel of betrayal, treachery, and courage against the odds.

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Read An Excerpt

The Shadow Network by Deborah Swift

Extract from Chapter 1

Berlin, 1938

Lilli tucked her scarf into her coat and braced herself against the chill of the November day. The examinations would start next week, so as she hurried down the steps from the main building of the university, she was still repeating the lines of Shakespeare under her breath.

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,

Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

The lines of the sonnet rang bitter-sweet after the cringing humiliation of losing her boyfriend Bren. Brendan Murphy – five years older, with rangy good looks and the easy confidence of a postgraduate student. He was an Irish student in Berlin, there to top up his German language skills, and they’d bonded over Goethe and Hermann Hesse.

Until Hilde, that was.

Even now, months later, as Lilli lugged her bag of books across the rain-wet compound, she was watching out for Bren and cursing Hilde Bollmann. Hilde, who’d swooped in with her blonde ponytail and flawless skin, and almost spirited Bren away from right under Lilli’s nose. But now Hilde had gone too, moved out of Germany, vanished like so many other students who were worried about the strange way Germany was going. But Bren had never rekindled his romance with Lilli, and it still hurt like toothache.

Lilli sighed, and hurried on, but seeing a crowd ahead, slowed to a crawling pace. Crowds were never good these days. Her path was blocked. She hesitated, fear uncoiling in her gut. The Brownshirts were always hanging around on the university steps and she’d learnt to side-step to avoid them. The warning came to her as a stench that seemed to swamp the street – harsh at the back of her throat like burning oil. Lilli had a quirk in her perception, something they called synaesthesia, and always felt atmosphere in colour and smell, just like she heard music in colour and shape.

Bracing herself, she strode forward. Today there were more of them, gathering like flies.

Best ignore them.

Further down the street, the Brownshirts were massing in smaller knots, staring at the girls who walked past. She wove swiftly between two parked cars to avoid them. The atmosphere was febrile, belligerent. She heard a tall, gangly boy make a ribald joke as she passed on the pavement. All girls suffered the butt of their attention. Ahead of her, two other young women were pushed into the road with shoves and shouts.

Lilli tightened her grip on her bag of books and walked on, her head up, but stony-faced, as if they didn’t exist.

‘I’d have that one,’ said the shortest youth in the group when she hurried by, head down, huddled into herself for protection.

One of the other lads laughed loudly, but then stifled it. He was about seventeen years old, she guessed, a lot younger than she was, but taller, with the swagger that comes from being in a gang. Lilli felt her shoulders tense, but lowered her eyes like the girl ahead of her. It wasn’t worth courting trouble. The low winter sun sliced between the buildings, dazzling her, and she hurried on with a hand shielding her face.

A boy with darting eyes and thick fleshy lips stuck out a foot, aiming to trip Mindel, the girl who was walking in front of her – a slim, dark-haired girl of about fourteen, whom Lilli knew from choir practice. Like her, Mindel wasn’t a member of the Bund, the League of German Girls. Mindel tried to dodge the boys’ attention, but another long-limbed boy stretched his foot out further so she stumbled and fell headlong, both arms out in front. The boy booted her in the ribs. Lilli cringed at the thud as his boot connected, but instinctively stopped to help as the youths sniggered and jostled.

One of them kicked again at Mindel, grabbed her notebook and taunted her, holding it high above his head, shouting, ‘Jump for it!’

‘Louts! Give it back!’ Lilli shouted.

Mindel snapped to her feet in an instant, scraping up her books. She kept her eyes to the ground and didn’t even try to get her notebook back, just dodged onwards, leaving it in her tormentor’s hands.

‘Ignorant swine,’ Lilli muttered under her breath.

‘Get her!’ a boy called.

Lilli shot sideways and ran, feeling someone grab her cardigan, but she kept running and it ripped from their hands. ‘Juden’, came the yell. Jews.

‘Are you all right?’ She caught up with Mindel around the corner. ‘Let me see your hands. Your knee’s bleeding.’

‘I know. Leave me alone. I just want to get home.’

‘Where do you live?’ Lilli asked, catching her by the arm.

‘Rosenstrasse. But I won’t go back there yet. They wait for me and throw stones. I’ll go to the bakery. Frau Brockdorf’s kind and will let me wait there, though her shop has hardly anything left in it now.’

‘Do you want a handkerchief for that graze?’

 A shake of the head. ‘They always do it. They know my father’s house, and it’s too near the Nazi Party’s new Assembly Rooms. But there’s something different about them today. They’re bolder. They’ve never done that before, kicked me in plain sight.’

‘You’re sure you’ll be okay?’

‘Just a bruise.’ A nod and a wave before she shot away down the side street, but Lilli had felt her fear, like a shiver of blue-grey.

Lilli continued towards home, checking over her shoulder that none of the boys had followed her. As she arrived warily at her front door, she noticed several more of the Brownshirts loitering at the end of the street. They were holding sticks in their hands, a fact that made her insides turn liquid. They were facing away from her, thank goodness, as she silently prised open the gate at the front of the house and took out her key. Her breath grew faster and shallower because she was aware they could turn to see her any moment. The back of her neck bristled as she unlocked the door. Once inside, she turned the key in the lock, wiped the sweat from her hands onto her skirt, and bounded breathlessly up the apartment steps to the first floor.

It was time to leave, like Hilde. She must tell Papa.

About the author

Deborah Swift is the English author of eighteen historical novels, including Millennium Award winner Past Encounters, and The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for the Impress Prize.

Her most recent books are the Renaissance trilogy based around the life of the poisoner Giulia Tofana, The Poison Keeper and its sequels, one of which won the Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal. Recently she has completed a secret agent series set in WW2, the first in the series being The Silk Code.

Deborah used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV and enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction, something she loved doing as a scenographer. She likes to write about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Deborah lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

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my review

As always with any novel written by Deborah Swift, a reader can trust the factual research that is necessary to create a plausible work of fiction. Ms Swift has this down to a fine art - not too much detail to overload the story, not too little to leave the reader mystified. Combined with intriguing characters (some you like, some you don't), a cracking good plot and superb writing... what more do you want for an absorbing and entertaining read?

I connected with Lilli from the opening page, it was obvious (with our knowledge of hindsight) what was about to happen because this was Nazi Germany, and there was obviously a Jewish connection of some sort, but even having this inkling by no means marred the story, in truth, it heightened the need to read on because of that immediate empathic connection with the 'heroine'.

No spoilers, but my thoughts were, What would I have done in that situation? I'd like to think I was as brave and resourceful as Lilli, but I'm not sure I would have been. Which made her all the more likeable, and this reader even more engrossed in the unfolding story.

An excellent read, if somewhat difficult in places nbecause of the dreadful historical context. 

Highly recommended

**** 4 stars


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  1. Thank you so much for hosting Deborah Swift on the release day for The Shadow Network – and for your lovely review of the novel!

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


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