The Imitator by Rebecca Starford

1. Published: 2020 Genre: Historical fiction 1. First lines 2. Cover: Allen and Unwin 3. Drinking tea [Public Domain] via freesvg 4. London street [Public Domain] via picryl

Evelyn is a young girl from the small town of Lewes in England. She receives a scholarship to boarding school and finds that she doesn’t fit in, so she resolves to act and look like those around her. She graduates in 1939, and is recruited as a spy by MI5. Her ability to befriend others and pretend to be like them is a prized skill, and she quickly becomes successful in infiltrating a group of Nazi sympathisers. However, when she discovers that a friend is implicated in the intrigue, Evelyn has to come to a decision that will change her life.

“Imitation is, after all, the highest form of flattery.”

Glanceabook: The author’s writing style is fluent and natural, which makes for a comfortable reading experience. The narrative moves slowly at first, and picks up when the main character starts her work with MI5, and it becomes quite intriguing (though not thrilling), and has an unexpected ending.

  • The Guardian: Starford’s dedication to research means the historical details of the novel are sharp and clear, down to the clothing, hats, interiors and even the language used. The political thread running through the book is subtle but distinct: the women are complex, brilliant characters, hindered by their gender; the men are good, bad, predatory and genuine in turn. This isn’t a didactic narrative designed to influence the reader’s allegiances and the characters avoid stereotypes. … This is, for the most part, a highly enjoyable novel, so it’s a pity the final chapters weren’t given more space to evolve.”
  • Sydney Morning Herald: The Imitator has a finely attuned sense of time and place, with Starford capturing the beatific English countryside, and the grim London flats, with the food, landscape and the furnishings of the era viscerally rendered. There are some small quibbles, though: Evelyn’s induction into the confidences of MI5 operatives and her easy acceptance by various factions seeking an alliance with Germany seem a little too smooth, and while the narrative takes its time to develop, the concluding chapters are breathlessly rushed. Nonetheless, with its onion layers of duplicity, it’s a beguiling and compelling tale of an otherwise ordinary woman, an unlikely spy caught between the personal and the political in the machine of war.


We trade in secrets here, Evelyn. There’s no shame in having a few of your own. Our only concern is for who might discover them.

“Evelyn was aware of a curious vibration in the balls of her feet, like she was standing on an air vent above the underground, until she realized it was her heart thudding away like that, making her whole body hum.”

“She no longer wanted to stand out and be unhappy, so she decided to recast herself as a background player, a bit part, and go unnoticed for the remainder of her schooling. That was the way to get along, she had come to understand. That was the way to make a success of herself.”

One comment

  1. […] “The Imitator” by Rebecca Starford was published in 2021 by Allen & Unwin, (published in the USA as “An Unlikely Spy” by Harper Collins). It’s another suspense/ thriller, but also historical fiction. I found it intriguing more than thrilling, and I really liked the author’s writing style. This book, written by an Australian author, was longlisted for the 2020 Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Awards. […]


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