I haven’t published an interview to my blog in a long time. Since Spitfire was one of my favorite books of 2020, and I’m just starting Nightshade, I thought I’d post this interview I did earlier this year with M.L. Huie. But first, here’s an introduction to both books:
How far would you go for vengeance?
It’s V-E Day 1946 in London. World War II is long over, and former spy Livy Nash is celebrating with her third drink before noon. She went to war to kill Nazis. Dropped behind enemy lines as a courier, she quickly became one of the toughest agents in France. But her war ended with betrayal and the execution of the man she loved. Now, Livy spends her days proofreading a demeaning advice column for little ladies at home, and her nights alone with black market vodka.
But everything changes when she meets the infamous Ian Fleming. The man who will create the world’s most sophisticated secret agent has an agenda of his own and sends Livy back to France with one task: track down the traitor who killed the only man she ever loved. Livy jumps at the chance, heading back to Paris undercover as a journalist. But the City of Lights is teeming with spies, and Livy quickly learns just how much the game has changed. With enemies on every corner and ever-shifting alliances, she’ll have to learn to fight a new war if she wants to conquer the past once and for all.
How far would you go to rescue a friend?
British spy Livy Nash has never had many friends. But fellow agent Margot Dupont was the exception to the rule. At least, until she disappeared during one of their missions in World War Two, never to be heard from again. Since then, Livy’s made do. Some people, you just can’t replace.
But when the British pick up Margot’s call sign–NIGHTSHADE–years after the war, Livy can’t help the glimmer of hope that she might see her old friend again. But Livy has her doubts: what their enemies are using it to lure out Livy and her team? What if it’s all a trick?
Despite her unease, Livy dives headlong into finding Margot, aided by her boss, the charming Ian Fleming. When evidence arises that a handsome Russian spy might have information about Margot, Livy agrees to her most dangerous mission yet: going undercover as a double agent to spy on the infamous “Red Devil”.
As Livy is pulled deeper into the shadows of treachery, the possibility of finding Margot alive diminishes as the danger grows. How much will she have to sacrifice to find a friend she thought she’d lost forever?
DF: What inspired the story of Spitfire?
MH: Two things. I read Elizabeth Wein’s brilliant YA novel CODE NAME: VERITY and then started looking into the women of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). I found the stories so vivid and alive. These women were really amateurs who were given training during World War Two and dropped behind enemy lines to do extremely dangerous jobs. At the same time in my own life I went through a period of unemployment and it made me wonder how a woman who loved this secret work might feel once the war was over and was told she just wasn’t needed anymore.
DF: Livy has a difficult time adapting to civilian life, she’s angry, she’s hurt, and she seems to need that thrill of living on the edge. What did you pull from to create this complex character?
MH: I don’t get the rush from danger that Livy does, that’s for sure. However I certainly have felt discarded in the past, and thought, “I could do some great things if given the chance.” I think we’ve all felt that at one time or another. Plus I believe that damaged characters are so interesting to write. I have been a fan of the James Bond novels my whole life. In many ways this book addresses the good and bad sides of those books. Bond is damaged too, but Fleming didn’t spend a lot of time delving into his psyche.
DF: You do a great job of bringing post-war London and Paris to life. What research did you have to do to create such vivid images?
MH: I’ve been to both London and Paris, but obviously never in 1946. Time travel needs to be invented for authors now! So, I relied on images from that time, newspapers, snippets from books here and there. I also have a good friend, André Roche, who lived in France during the occupation and fought for the Free French Forces. So, when I wondered where does one go to use a public telephone in 1946 Paris I just asked André.
DF: One thing I love about writing historical fiction is the research. Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?
MH: The bravery of the men and women of the SOE is really hard to overestimate. They took enormous risks, and yet they were quite normal people like you or me. They just lived in an extraordinary time. I read several biographies of these women and really tried to put myself in their shoes.
DF: Pervasive in the story is a transition from “The Last War” to “The Next War,” which sets Spitfire apart from WWII thrillers. Can you tell us how you carried that theme throughout the book?
MH: I thought of this story as one of the first skirmishes of the Cold War. 1946 is a time when you’re still not sure who’s on your side. That’s one of the big challenges for Livy to transition from a hot war where the enemy typically wore a uniform to the “shadow war” where you have to figure out who the enemy is first. The first piece of research I did was to re-watch the great post-war thriller THE THIRD MAN. The gray noir-ish world in that film was a major influence on the tone of the book.
I hope you enjoyed the interview! If you’d like to know more about M.L. Huie, you can find his website here: www.mlhuie.com