#aww2021 · 2021 Reviews · crime · historical fiction · mystery · new release

New Release Book Review: The Imitator by Rebecca Starford

Title: The Imitator

Author: Rebecca Starford

Published: February 2nd 2021

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 352

Genres: Fiction, Historical, Crime, Mystery

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

A page-turning World War Two spy thriller, based on true events.’The Imitator gripped me to the end: I devoured it … What a rare treat to find a novel that offers both white-knuckled suspense and evocative, beautiful prose. I loved it.’ – Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites and The Good People

‘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.’

Out of place at boarding school, scholarship girl Evelyn Varley realises that the only way for her to fit in is to be like everyone else. She hides her true self and what she really thinks behind the manners and attitudes of those around her. By the time she graduates from Oxford University in 1939, ambitious and brilliant Evelyn has perfected her performance.

War is looming. Evelyn soon finds herself recruited to MI5, and the elite counterintelligence department of Bennett White, the enigmatic spy-runner. Recognising Evelyn’s mercurial potential, White schools her in observation and subterfuge and assigns her the dangerous task of infiltrating an underground group of Nazi sympathisers working to form an alliance with Germany.

But befriending people to betray them isn’t easy, no matter how dark their intent. Evelyn is drawn deeper into a duplicity of her own making, where truth and lies intertwine, and her increasing distrust of everyone, including herself, begins to test her better judgement. When a close friend becomes dangerously ensnared in her mission, Evelyn’s loyalty is pushed to breaking point, forcing her to make an impossible decision.

A powerfully insightful and luminous portrait of courage and loyalty, and the sacrifices made in their name.


Rebecca Starford vividly brings to life the fascinating world of female spies during World War Two in The Imitator. With plenty of exciting and tense movements of espionage, The Imitator is an intricately plotted novel that provided me with an alternative picture of the war.

Drawn from real life events following the experiences of a female spy operative during the Second World War, The Imitator is a mind-bending novel with plenty of twists to keep the reader on their toes. Directing the proceedings of The Imitator is Evelyn Varley, a woman who likes to blend into the background. Unable to reveal her true identity and feelings, Evelyn is an enigma. Evelyn has carefully crafted her persona over a number of years and 1939, following the successful completion of her university studies Evelyn is as ambitious as ever. When the war arrives on Evelyn’s doorstep, this highly intelligent and brave young woman is thrust into a world of espionage. Evelyn is a woman with a great deal of potential to make a difference to world, especially with her unique talents. Recruited by the world’s most well-known spy agency, Evelyn sets about completing a series of assignments that present a great deal of danger. In this exhilarating spy game tale, Rebecca Starford has crafted a highly engaging World War Two mystery based narrative.

With a television series of her highly regarded memoir Bad Behaviour in development, Rebecca Starford is one busy writer. It is always great to see an author branch out into different fields writing wise and The Imitator is quite contrasted to Starford’s previous release, a memoir which I enjoyed in 2015. The Imitator is carefully drawn from real life experiences and is presented in the form of a very engaging historical fiction narrative. I know I greatly valued the intent and direction of this novel, it was a riveting read.

The strength in The Imitator does rest in the presentation of lead protagonist Evelyn Varley. A pillar of strength, high interest, bravery and resilience, I think Evelyn was lovingly drawn by Rebecca Starford. There is also a strong sense of authenticity and realism to Evelyn’s character, which is down to the research efforts of Rebecca Starford. I genuinely enjoyed every waking moment I spent with Evelyn. At times Evelyn’s life was quiet as Starford worked to build a fascinating world around her prime protagonist. In other instances Evelyn was surrounded by intrigue, tension, high octane experiences and intricate espionage activities. A perceptive and calculating read is issued to the audience, that really packs a punch.

When there is just so much variety in the World War Two fiction arena, it can be overwhelming to decide what is worth selecting from this plentiful genre. Thankfully, The Imitator is a book that I believe is well worth plucking from this overwhelming selection pool. With a strong attention to period detail and an excellent representation of female war time experiences with an espionage slant, I am certain The Imitator will satisfy keen eyed historical fiction readers. Please turn your attention to the very detailed author’s note contained at the back of the book if you have this book in your possession, it offers an enlightening focus on some truly fascinating real life experiences during the war.

The Imitator delivers a powerful tale of gallantry and valor on behalf of the amazing female trailblazers during the war. Inspiring and exalting, Rebecca Starford’s new novel is an influential read that I have no hesitation in recommending to fans of historical fiction.

The Imitator by Rebecca Starford was published on 2nd February 2021 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Imitator, Rebecca Starford, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

The Imitator is book #21 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge

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