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The Company of Strangers
  “Wilson’s narrative is calm, chilly and engrossing. He writes with energy, appetite and a kind of unflinching compassion that allows him to scan the horrors without excusing them. It is a rare talent and gives this book purpose, muscle and stature.”
Philip Oakes Literary Review

“Absorbing and brilliantly written, this is caviar for the cognoscenti.”
Los Angeles Times

SYNOPSIS
Lisbon 1944. In the torrid summer heat the streets of the Portuguese capital seethe with spies and informers while the endgame of the Intelligence war is silently being fought.
Andrea Aspinall, mathematician and spy, enters this sophisticated, dangerous world as a secretary for an oil company. She stays in the magnificent mansion of a sinister Irish businessman above the casino in Estoril.
Karl Voss, military attaché to the German Legation, arrives from the Eastern front on a secret mission to rescue Germany from complete annihilation.
In the lethal tranquillity of this corrupted paradise the two meet and attempt to find love in a world where no-one can be believed.

After a night of terrible violence, Andrea is left with a lifelong addiction to the clandestine world that takes her from the understated brutality of Salazar's fascist regime, to the paranoia of Cold War Berlin, where she is forced to make the final and the hardest choice.

AUTHOR CONFIDENTIAL
Neutral country
I'd done a lot of research work for A Small Death in Lisbon and this had left me with plenty of material, which hadn't been relevant to the wolfram wars of WW2. I'd inevitably become fascinated by Portugal's neutrality and Lisbon's perfect location beyond the other neutral buffer country, Spain, which had made it the perfect place for the Allies and Axis to 'communicate', or rather spy on each other.

Strange dance partners
The British Embassy and German legation were about a hundred metres from each other in the upmarket neighbourhood of Lapa, almost opposite the huge suspension bridge across the river Tagus. Further out of town, beyond the estuary mouth on the Atlantic coast, was Estoril with its casino, where The Hotel Palacio (frequented by the British) was almost next door to the Hotel Parque (frequented by the Nazis). There were parties and dances held where representatives from the Allies and Axis powers could meet, along with the right-wing politicians of Salazar's authoritarian regime, the Estado Novo. Circling this group of intelligence officers, diplomats and politicians were plenty of international businessmen looking for money-making opportunities. And outside their circle were the Jewish refugees and local informers who fed off any scraps that might earn them a passage to America or preferential treatment from the secret police (PIDE). It was an intoxicating atmosphere, ripe for opportunists with both business and political agendas. And, of course, writers...like me.

Maths heroine
I realised that I could make use of this research in an original way by introducing a female lead into this dangerous mixture. My challenge this time was to tell a story from a woman's perspective. I decided on Andrea Aspinall, a very bright Maths graduate form Oxford University who is recruited to MI6. I wanted her to be a mathematician because I was drawn to the idea of a woman with a highly logical mind, but who was also emotionally vulnerable because of her family background: an absent father and a very difficult relationship with her mother.

Destiny under the sun
Something that had always struck me about the Second World War was how people suddenly started moving around to a much greater extent than they had ever done before. Quite quickly the idea of a man and a woman from opposite sides meeting under the brilliant sunshine of a sinister, volatile and opaque Lisbon took root. There would be an element of destiny about the impossibility of their meeting. How does a German officer from Hitler's Rastenburg HQ for the invasion of Russia end up as a spy in Lisbon working for the July plotters (a resistance movement within the German military)? How, too, does a mysterious young English woman, who appears to be working as a secretary for an Shell Oil executive, come to be living in the Estoril mansion of a sinister Irish businessman? And even more impossible: how do they fall in love under these extraordinarily difficult circumstances?

All lovers are spies. All have their secrets.

THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS
496 pages
Harvest Books; Reprint edition (Nov 2002)
ISBN-10: 0156027100
ISBN-13: 978-0156027106

 
     
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