September 2011: Dixon Grace, an Australian of Indian descent, is living in Hamburg. She shares a flat with her boyfriend, and teaches English to local workers. She’s beautiful, smart and stylish. And she’s a dangerous international spy. Or is she? Dixon wakes one morning to find her flat being raided by the SEK , the German equivalent of SWAT. Her boyfriend is nowhere to be seen and she is under arrest for the crime of corporate espionage. Whisked away to Hamburg’s State Criminal Police HQ, she is held in an interrogation room awaiting her fate. Dixon and her boyfriend, Ben, both work at Flussair, an international aeroplane manufacturer. Dixon is a part-time, freelance teacher at the plant, with no access to important documents: yet, she is accused of having stolen closely-guarded navigation and guidance technology for aeroplanes that can also be used with weapons and military drones. As she is questioned by the hopelessly inept officer Gerd Schultze and his sharper, more sensitive superior, Babette Korner, Dixon’s story begins to unfold. Ben’s boss, a highly respected Flussair senior, has been murdered, and there seem to be strangely revealing elements in Dixon’s past. All accusations point to her. And yet, she insists, it is all a terrible misunderstanding…
Every so often a random approach from a publisher to review a book does uncover a real gem, and this is certainly true of Alexa Camouro’s debut- an international fast paced spy thriller that delivers more than a few surprises along the way, and I, for one am jolly glad to have embarked on this high-octane tale of spies, lies and espionage.
With my fondness of the James Bond school of espionage and thrills and spills, I was quite taken with this. There’s a wonderful quote from Camouro on her feisty female protagonist where she says she wanted to “create a character James Bond would fall in love with, but who didn’t need him at all. And who, in the process, could break his heart, kick his arse and steal the important documents.”- and she succeeds. What was so refreshing about the book was the character of Dixon herself, who not only has a razor sharp delivery of sassy one-liners, but who comprehensively defies those tasked with breaking down her cover story, which they believe to be untrue. It was good to see Camouro playing with the traditional roles of gender within this particular genre, and to so perfectly turn the expectations of this style of book so convincingly on its head. The book operates across several timelines and two continents as we follow Dixon’s back story, from her childhood and fledgling police career in Australia to her current employ as an English teacher working within an industrial company in Germany. I would say that you need to pay attention as each chapter moves at speed between different dates and locations, filled with some skilful red herrings and fully enveloping the reader in their own kind of detection. Nothing is quite as it seems. As the story delves into her personal and professional relationships there are some wonderful vignettes, delving into her family life and her journey both physically and metaphorically to her current status as a person under suspicion of industrial espionage. The scenes with Dixon and her interrogators are particularly effective as instead of good cop/bad cop we bear witness to inept cop/slightly less inept cop and Dixon manipulates the situation, and how much of her true self she reveals brilliantly throughout these intense yet witty face-offs. The plot unfolds at an upbeat pace, and I liked the cutting between the key players in the affair, and how all roads do seem to lead to Dixon via the less than honest world of international industry- a world of shady deals and murderous intent. But is our wisecracking, ass-kicking heroine as culpable as the authorities believe she is or is she just a smarter than average teacher caught up in a horrible case of mistaken identity and false accusations? I guarantee you will love the journey to find out! Funny, fast and furious, this is a debut novel that has a universal appeal to any lover of spy fiction, and I’m more than keen to read what Dixon does next. Great fun.
Read an interview with Alexa Camouro here: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk
Dixon Grace 1.9.7 Hamburg is published 1st October (Rippple Books)
(With thanks to Tabitha at Rippple Books for the ARC)