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( Read Kindle ) ¾ Spies ë There Is Very Little Evidence Of The War Where Keith And Stephen Live But The Two Friends Suspect The Inhabitants Of The Close Aren T What They Seem As Keith Informs His Trusting Friend, The District Is Riddled With Secret Passages And Underground Labs Spies is a coming of age story, a mystery, a war novel, and a big leap into childhood from adolescence and back I can t say much beacuse I m at a loss for words and it s all Michael Frayn s fault The guy is brilliant and so is the book. Another from the 2002 Booker longlist, this one is a quiet revelation and a masterly piece of storytelling.The action is narrated by an old man revisiting the scene and remembering his childhood adventures in suburban England during the Second World War The story is narrated from the childhood Stephen s perspective, with occasional interludes in which the older man reflects on the story, the nature of childhood memories and what he did and didn t know when.Stephen is a follower, not a leader, a second child prey to bullies at school, who is befriended by Keith, a lonely child from a better school Keith develops a fantasy that his mother is a German spy, and co opts Stephen into a scheme to spy on her The game becomes serious because she does indeed have secrets, and the nature of these secrets and their gradual revelation form the core of the book, along with what Stephen learns about his own family Some of the key revelations are held back until very late in the book, others are hinted at earlier, but the whole is very satisfying A lovely book which deserved better than a mere longlisting. In the 1940s, some boys played Cops Robbers, some played Cowboys Indians But Stephen and Keith, English boys and neighbours during WWII, played Spies Sure, it s a less well known game, but it is just as engrossing, and involves a hideout and a logbook, lots of sneaking around, and monitoring the movements and whereabouts of Keith s mother, who the boys are certain is a German spy.This coming of age story is told by Stephen, an elderly, grandfatherly Stephen, who is remembering a pivotal time in his childhood He returns to his childhood neighbourhood and it all comes back to him in a series of nostalgic waves Memory is not reliable, and neither is this narrative, but it IS deliciously satisfying and continues to unfold and reveal up until the very last page.The dynamic between the boys is fascinating Stephen, who feels lucky Keith pays him any attention, and who is aware that there s something shameful about his own family, and Keith, who lives in a perfect house filled with perfect toys and a regularly maintained bicycle, and who calls the shots in their friendship.The idea of a pair of children acting as amateur sleuths in a mystery that is far over their heads reminded me a bit of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, though this was far literary and memorable for me It s also much suspenseful, as the game of Spies gradually shifts from a charming, childish fantasy to something dangerous The street in this quiet English town is full of secrets, and nothing is as it seems The whistle of a father working in the garden has never been so sinister.It took me a little time to get into the story, but once in, I was turning pages feverishly I worried, as in other spy stories, will this one be obtuse and confusing than anything else I needn t have worried, though Frayn doesn t leave us hanging in a maze of double agents and hazy memories He leads us through, having left a trail of breadcrumbs that we can now see in the clear, 20 20 vision that retrospect affords.Elegant, captivating storytelling.4.5 stars I was convinced this was going to be a five star read until about twenty pages from the end Such a clever and artfully constructed book deserved a much better denouement As it was the ending was flaccid for me and the final twist somewhat lame I can t explain why without spoiling the plot Spies is narrated in the first person by an elderly man looking back at one experience during WW2 It begins at a leisurely pace, it s languorous rhythms matching those of the out of the way English town where it s set Early on we get an interesting look at the hierarchy of power between young boys Stephen, the narrator, has no power The only kid willing to befriend him is a stuck up boy no one else likes But Stephen s role is as a menial sidekick, there to carry out Keith s orders The bullied narrator exacts little sympathy because he s so relentlessly abject I felt the author went a bit over the top with his depiction of craven shyness Stephen can t even look at adults let alone answer their questions which will become a bit annoying further down the line when this paralysis becomes a convenient plot device It s almost as if he compels those around him to treat him without respect That said I did get a few insights into ways to ensure my own little boy isn t bullied when he starts school next September The pace considerably hots up when Keith announces his mother is a German spy The two boys begin to follow her, but she always mysteriously vanishes This is the best part of the book when the mystery of the mother s antics is hard to work out It has the exciting intrigue of a brilliant thriller at this point And I loved how he showed kids with a feverish imagination inventing an adventure and then having to suspend disbelief, just like readers, to sustain the narrative Perhaps it doesn t take too long to work out the nature of the mystery but I was still excited to see how it would play out Then came the ending I really liked this but didn t quite love it because of the unsatisfactory ending I ve got a feeling this is why I wouldn t love thrillers in general The endings somehow like the vacuum cleaning of a carpet which never for me achieves a result that quite rewards the effort.