For her twelfth novel, and the most entertaining for me, Stéphanie des Horts uses the same ingredients which make her writing irresistible: a lot of love affairs, a very bright heroine who attracts sexy men, and this time, the world of British spies during the late 30’s and WWII. Her latest book “Cynthia” tells the story of Betty Pack, an American who was raised in Chili, and is described on the first page as “It is not a pretty girl, it is an atomic bomb”. Married to a British diplomat, Arthur Pack, at 20, she lives in Spain during the Civil War and takes a Spanish lover, succumbs to “religious fervor” with her confessor, Padre Pablo, who is madly in love with her,
and she frees him from the jails of Franco after seducing the guards of the prison. In Poland where her husband is posted in 1937-1938, she falls for Count Michal Lubienski who explains to her the mechanism of the Enigma machine and informs her on Hitler’s Polish and Tcheck projects. When she moves to Washington D.C., she sleeps with an Italian admiral and gives enough information to the Brits so that Winston Churchill toasts her, on March 29, 1941 when the Italian float is destroyed.
Back in Chili, she becomes a reporter for the newspaper “La Nacion” and studies the pro nazis individuals, travels to Havana in 1940 to meet International leaders and eventually moves to Washington where she, again, sleeps with spies and diplomats who can help. Her last conquest is Charles Brousse the press attaché at the French Embassy who is “the quintessence of all her lovers”. She will end up marrying him and moving to his French castle in Castelnou, near Perpignan.
These serial love affairs with married men have their dark side. Her two children a boy and a girl are abandoned to a foster family for the eldest, and to her father in Chili for the youngest. There are a series of abortions on the way and her past lovers are always in her mind until her early death at 53, on December 1, 1963.
Her life is astonishing in the courage (or madness?) she shows in every situation. Her specialty is to obtain the secret war codes from every country from her lovers. And her role was apparently essential in some of the military operations of the war including the Enigma machine.
All along the book, one thinks of the author who has the brightness, the vitality and the charm of her heroine.
“Cynthia” by Stéphanie des Horts is published by Albin Michel.
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