Genre : Fiction
Published : 1 Feb 2002 - Faber & Faber
It is the year 1942, and Keith and Stephen’s quiet London suburb has so far been left unharmed by the ravages of the war. Desperate for excitement and drawn to the glamour of the war’s espionage stories, Keith persuades the younger Stephen to believe that their whole neighbourhood is riddled with secret passages, with unsung war heroes, murderers and secret agents. But when he announces an even more disconcerting discovery – that the Germans have infiltrated his own family – the game gets out of hand, and it is Stephen who has to learn the painful lesson that war does not play by the rules.


Beautifully accomplished, richly nostalgic novel about supposed Second World War espionage seen through the eyes of a young boy".

Sunday Times

This is a deeply satisfying account of the everyday torments and confusions experienced by a not especially bright boy at a time of international madness. Frayn has written nothing better".


Michael turns the suburban close into an echo chamber for the cries and whispers passing between the child and the adult.

Time Out

Michael Frayn is the most philosophical comic writer – and the most comic philosophical writer – of our time.

Michael Arditti, Daily Mail

Nobody could better his descriptive passages. Compelling as the narrative is, it is the author’s acute observation that makes this suburban study in miniature a masterpiece.

The Mail on Sunday

The plot is strong and compelling, but the star of the book is its beautifully wrought atmosphere... Frayn’s delicate prose... With SPIES, Frayn may have even outdone his previous novel... SPIES will captivate those with a taste for the bittersweet and the mildly melancholic.

Nick Hackworth, Harpers and Queen

With a taking blend of irony and nostalgia, Frayn reconstructs the innocently lurid adventure fantasies of schoolboys over half a century ago... It would be an exceptionally perverse reader who could resist becoming equally involved... Frayn has never written more seductively and surely than in this book.

Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times

Frayn re-enters [the 1940s] with patience, invention and meticulous absorption in the details that draw one further in, transmuting what could be tedious into a compelling story.

Hugo Young, The Guardian Review

Frayn’s new novel, SPIES, drapes a valedictory sadness upon a mystery armature... understated tact and ingenuity of mystery plot...

The New Yorker

SPIES will certainly be read with pleasure, but the dynamics of this book – the way it goes about hiding and uncovering it’s secrets, the way it works – are in themselves enormously entertaining.

Washington Post

Frayn is a master of the intellectual mystery masquerading as ripping popular entertainment.

New York Times Book Review

This is a lovingly conceived, handsomely detailed novel in a conservative vein with a vivid sympathy for how lonely, scared and helpless being a child often feels.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian Saturday Review

It is cerebral and sensuous; extremely funny and yet deeply serious about the peculiar mixture of curiosity and profound incuriousness that characterises children – and, Frayn, suggests, adults too.

Caroline Moore, The Sunday Telegraph

Exquisitely written and probably my favourite novel ever. There’s not a word that’s wasted; every description grips you. You can almost smell the leaves on the trees, it’s so potently written.

Kirsty Young

[Frayn] is one of those people with more talent than is good for them… A deeply touching, involving read

The Big Issue

This is a delicate, finely-stitched little novel and there’s a twist at the end that will have you flicking back to the beginning, nodding your head in assent.

William Leith, The Evening Standard

It is an odd, original, haunting little tale in which the teller is the really interesting thing... The evocation of Second World War existence from a child’s point of view is a powerful component in this novel’s success. So is the actual writing... a modest but memorable book.

Robert Nye, The Times

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