Once a Spy
Once a Spy is the fourth and final installment in Mary Jo Putney’s Rogues Redeemed series. It’s a mixed bag of lovely romance, questionable circumstances, interesting war story, and unbelievable outcomes. In the end, I was entertained but it left me scratching my head a few times.
British intelligence officer Simon Duval has just resigned following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. He is tired of war and loss (including his fiancée) and ready to have a normal, quiet life. He hears that his cousin’s widow Suzanne Duval, the Comtesse de Chambron – whom he remembers fondly as a young bride – may be alive and living in London. He finds Suzanne living in reduced circumstances as a seamstress.
Suzanne is surprised to see Simon after all these years. Life has been hard on Suzanne – first as the child bride of a self-centered French aristocrat, then as a slave in a harem (recently rescued as part of book three in the series). She and Simon pick up where they left off years ago with an easy friendship and Simon, quite out of the blue, proposes marriage. They are both done with romantic love but would like a bond of companionship (and Suzanne would like the financial freedom the marriage would offer her). They agree to a marriage of friendship, with no romantic or sexual involvement.
“I’ve always felt easy with you even when we were both very young and you were on the way to the altar with another. I feel easy with you now despite the strangeness of this conversation. Do you feel that way, or is it just me?”
“I’ve felt much the same,” she said slowly. “As if we were natural friends. In the years since, we’ve both lived complicated loves. There is ease in not having to pretend to be normal.”
After a brief honeymoon, rumors of Napoleon’s plans to escape Elba reach London and Simon is called upon to use his skills to see what can be learned of these plans. He and Suzanne travel to France to see what has happened to her former husband’s estate, to look for a cousin of Simon’s recently seen in Belgium and previously thought dead in the war, and to do a little sleuthing.
At 384 pages, Once a Spy is a long saga with lots of subplots. The central story between Simon and Suzanne is a sweet love story. Simon awakens to his carnal desires soon after marrying, but Suzanne is understandably hesitant to engage in relations with any man. If you can suspend a little belief here about how a woman recovers from the tortures of living in a harem, Simon and Suzanne’s romantic path is tender and engaging. I especially appreciated how completely honest they were about everything they thought and felt. Ms. Putney writes a lovely romance built on kindness, patience, and frankness, with the lust coming after the trust and love.
A major plot point in Once a Spy is the Battle of Waterloo and the days leading up to it. I enjoyed this part of the book as Ms. Putney paints a very vivid picture of what life was like for those living in the Low Countries at the time. Napoleon’s devastation to this area and most of France is shown very clearly and the reader is fully immersed in the fear and wonder of the time. Ms. Putney builds up the tension leading to the battle and I raced through those pages!
If the novel had kept its focus on Suzanne and Simon and their efforts in Belgium and France, I would have been more than satisfied. I was happy with the trajectory of the story up to the halfway point, but then Ms. Putney started adding in too many happy circumstances and unbelievable plot turns and I ended up feeling like a really good story had been hijacked. There were also a few things that should have been caught in editing or proofing – like Suzanne writing late in the book that she would have loved to have seen Simon just once in his uniform, even though he wore his uniform to their wedding.
So, it’s a mixed bag! Overall, I did enjoy reading Once a Spy but I had to suspend my belief and judgment along the way. It reminded me of romances from a decade or two ago – which is a hard sell nowadays. I’m giving Once a Spy a qualified recommendation because the love story is strong, and even though I had trouble with some of the lucky outcomes at the end, maybe not everyone will.
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|Review Date:||December 2, 2019|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Rogues Redeemed series|
My Mom read this and loved it. Some of my favorite historicals are by Putney, but as said above, hit and miss the last decade. Good review!
Oddly enough, hit and miss can be a good thing. Woody Allen once said it is better to make the best movie you can but not to worry if it’s a flop because then you’re going to move onto the next one. Besides, if every movie you made was a hit, then the audience would have unrealistic expectations for you as a filmmaker whereas a hit and miss performance makes people look at your work on a case by case basis. And that takes the pressure off of the filmmaker to make blockbuster after blockbuster and allows him to just make the movies he wants to make and tell the stories he wants to tell. I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but I think Mr. Allen made a good point that can also apply to writers. (I don’t want to get into Mr. Allen’s uh… proclivities on this post, but I thought it was an interesting insight.)
Thanks Mel. I did wonder while reading Once a Spy if it would appeal more to an older reader. I have definitely loved some of Ms. Putney’s novels – my personal favorite being The Bargain.
I’m one of the older readers. And I’ve noticed that books of older writers whose books accompany my reading life since many years get less good reviews in recent times while other authors whose works don’t appeal to me are hyped. Tastes alter over time and I think authors like Putney, Balogh and others of my own generation will find their readers while younger authors will find theirs.
I agree. Contemporary romance relies a lot on lol culture references and technology references, and I am clueless about both. I just accept the premise as stated, but I’m sure many subtleties are lost on me because of that. My opinion is that those books will date rapidly and 10-15 years from now they will have a severely reduced readership.
I have also noticed less humor in historical romance, and I need the funny. My life isn’t a barrel of laughs and I read to escape. I love writers like Loretta Chase who can create a sexy love story and make me laugh. Her banter and her descriptions of clothing and social mores can be hilarious, as are her eccentric old lady characters. I don’t see As much of that in HR, and I miss it.
lol culture s/b pop culture.
I love humor in my HRs as well! Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor is a great example of this. Balogh sometimes has humor in her stories (I’m thinking of Slightly Dangerous) but mainly the angst in her stories is what keeps me coming back for more. This year I really enjoyed Julie Anne Long’s HRs – she does a great job telling stories with romance, angst, clever plot turns, and a good amount of humor! Thanks for your thoughtful comments!
And the horse looks pink. But I can live with pink horses and trains that would trip the horse much less the rider. It’s all about the fantasy for me!
The horse is pink because the dye in the dress wasn’t fast.
I look forward to reading the book. But I have to say that it has a remarkably silly cover. Is the heroine glued to the side of the horse? And how could she move anywhere without tripping over a skirt that looks twice as long as her legs?
It also looks as though the horse is leaping through fire, and there’s a cannon in the background. So, during a battle or a battle re-enactment, the heroine wore the longest dress in the world to ride a horse through a bonfire?
As Suzanna said, I don’t think the heroine could *walk* in that dress, let alone ride. For some reason, I didn’t want to be the first person to make fun of this odd cover. So, thanks!
The red dress definitely plays a part in the book. But, not during a battle. Artistic license I guess??? She would have to be velcro’d to the horse for this to work!
I’ve been hoping for this review as this book has been on my To Read pile, primarily because the heroine’s name is the same as mine. I’ve read some of MJP’s backlog but none of her recent work, so I wanted to see what AAR would say before I committed. I’m happy to say I will try it. And just look at that cover; it’s gorgeous.
Putney’s truly been all over the place for me over the last four years or so; this sounds much better than the last book I read of hers.
This was an improvement for me too. The romance was well done and that counts for a lot IMHO.
Thanks, Ms. North for the great review. I read “Once a Scoundrel,” which is part of the “Rogues Redeemed” series and it was a lot of fun.
As for the unbelievable plot twists and turns and neat wrap-ups, I think Ms. Putney has a style that is lighthearted enough to pull it off. Suspension of disbelief is a staple in a lot of genres that actually helps make a lot of otherwise dreary stories entertaining. For example, cute, cozy mystery series that follow the same character in a small town require the reader to ignore the fact that this charming little setting somehow has more murders per capita than the world’s most violent major cities. Or in Westerns like “Gunsmoke” where we just ignore the fact that Sheriff Matt Dillon has probably been shot 40+ times in a 20 year period. And how many times can a character in any action/adventure series get clunked over the head without suffering long-term brain injuries common to professional boxers?
“There were also a few things that should have been caught in editing or proofing – like Suzanne writing late in the book that she would have loved to have seen Simon just once in his uniform, even though he wore his uniform to their wedding.” Ugh! Continuity is a b***h, especially for series writers. But when a work is professionally published, I think there’s less of an excuse.