The Excitements by C J Wray: Fast-paced, wonderfully witty, and full of intrigue – book review -

The Excitements by C J Wray:The Excitements by C J Wray:
The Excitements by C J Wray:
If your New Year is starting to fall flat and you need an uplift to banish those January blues, tuck into the cosy charm and irreverent humour of a deliciously feelgood mystery starring two sprightly nonagenarians on an all-out hunt for revenge.

Fast-paced, wonderfully witty, and full of intrigue, surprises and drama, The Excitements is the work of C J Wray – pseudonym of a bestselling author with more than forty books to her name – and delivers a joyful exuberance that is guaranteed to warm every reader’s heart.

At the centre of the action are Josephine and Penny Williamson, Britain’s most treasured Second World War veterans, two remarkably clever and brave women who helped save the world and survived the unthinkable, without ever losing their killer instinct... or their sense of fun.

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And it’s their chequered journey to Paris (with the help of their ever-faithful and troubleshooting great-nephew Archie) to covertly right the wrongs of their secret past that takes centre stage in this very British, and very funny, adventure.

Both now in their late nineties, Josephine and Penny are in huge demand, beloved of journalists and the Great British Public, popping up on red carpets and at fundraisers, festivals and commemorative events all over the country.

Josephine was a Wren with the Royal Navy while Penny worked in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and despite their age, they are both still in good nick. Sprightly and sparky, the sisters are ready to seize every opportunity for fun, and always in search of the next ‘excitement,’ with their gay and much-loved great-nephew Archie acting as de facto organiser.

Their current ‘excitement’ is a trip to Paris to receive the Légion d’Honneur for their part in liberating France but what has always remained a secret is that Josephine was actually an intelligence operative who drew maps used for the D-Day invasion, while Penny was an SOE agent and a specialist at hand-to-hand combat, risking her teenage life in France.

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Both sisters have fond memories of the City of Light but this trip to Paris is not entirely what it seems either. Scandal and crime (not least some notable jewellery thefts) have always quietly trailed the Williamson siblings, even in the decades after the war.

Now armed with new information about an old adversary who they believe was responsible for a cruel betrayal, these much decorated (but admittedly ancient) veterans intend to settle scores, avenge lost friends, and pull off one last daring heist before the curtain finally comes down on their illustrious careers.

Revenge is definitely a dish best served old in this rollicking romp with two of the most audacious and outrageous elderly ladies you could hope to meet in the pages of a book. In a life which has no room for ‘gloom or self-pity,’ Josephine and Penny take no prisoners on their French mission (seemingly) impossible.

Aided and abetted by the devoted and ever-inventive Archie – a man shaped and moulded by the philosophy of two great aunts who ‘swore like builders, yet could keep their hairdos perfect all day long’ – Wray’s twisting, turning plot plays out in both the past and the present, and against some authentic and harrowing wartime events.

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With resonant themes of family love and being true to yourself, and a glorious blend of real history, laugh-out-loud comedy, rip-roaring adventure, and moments of unexpected but endearing tenderness, The Excitements is a genuine delight and encapsulates all that is enjoyable about stories featuring the most unlikely but likeable heroes.

(Orion, hardback, £18.99)

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