This is a more conventional story than Robin Scott Elliot’s other two novels, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, and The Acrobats of Agra, but it shows his development as a writer and deals with a very serious time.
The setting is Occupied France in 1942. Amelie Dreyfus, a Jewish teenager is left alone in the family apartment in Paris, when her mother and brother are rounded up and sent who knows where. Left completely alone, she soon becomes involved in the Resistance and is sheltered in a museum where a printing press rolls out leaflets which she distributes. There is however a traitor in their midst and Amelie narrowly misses being caught. After helping an RAF pilot escape she arrives in London, and is then trained and sent back again to Paris, where after one last mission to save Jewish children, she witnesses the arrival of the Allies.
Many young people were involved in the Resistance in various roles, and this story of Amelie, looking older than her years, rings true and plausible. The constant fear of being picked up by the Gestapo, or being betrayed by one of your own countrymen, and not being able to trust anyone at all, is well drawn, and runs right through the story, adding tension which builds to a (partly) satisfying ending for Amelie. Maurice Buckmaster, Head of SOE in London and Vera Atkins, real figures, appear in the story during Amelie’s time in London, and there is an exciting episode during one of the exercises she was set, where the courage, quick thinking and ingenuity needed to work as an agent, are evident.
Robin Scott-Elliot has done his homework and created a serious and sombre story of a girl caught up in a war and learning to use her wits and courage not just to survive, but also to contribute to the success of the French Resistance in attacking the Germans who occupied her country. It is perhaps difficult for those in the UK to imagine being occupied but this story gives a very good idea of how it must have been. The feel of the period and time has been caught very well, except that I am not sure that girls wore tights then, more stockings and suspenders!