Sometimes even when you are minding your own business, you can get into trouble. Lysander Rief has no idea that his quiet existence in Vienna is about to become a nightmare in William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise. Rief, an itinerate British actor, has come to the Vienna of Freud in 1913 to find the cure for his anorgasmia. After about one hundred pages of civilized banter, psychoanalysis, and an affair with a beautiful artist, Lysander finds himself an unwilling fugitive and a conspirator.
After his lover, Hettie Bull, cures him of his sexual dysfunction, she falsely accuses him of rape, and Lysander finds himself in a Viennese jail. He escapes from Vienna with the help of a British diplomat and a military attaché, forfeiting the bail posted by the British Embassy. Although he manages to reprise his role as an actor in London for a while, World War I intervenes and he enlists. Suddenly, the two Brits who had helped him escape in Vienna, have reappeared and are demanding he repay his debt – seems they are really spies, enlisting Lysander for a new role:
“My life seems to be running on a track I have nothing to do with — I’m a passenger on a train but I have no idea of the route it’s taking or its final destination.”
Lysander fits his new role as undercover sleuth well, using his former life as an actor to create characters and disguises as he goes behind enemy lines to seek an elusive counterspy. When he finds himself in the midst of crossfire, Boyd gives his actions credibility, with a smattering of a reluctant James Bond – all lots of fun, especially when Hattie reenters the action and his gay uncle becomes an accomplice.
After a slow start, Boyd delivers a very British spy novel with colorful characters and a plot that will have you wondering who the real spies are. The time and tone is Downton Abbey with a smattering of Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps. If you like a little espionage with your crumpets, Waiting for Sunrise might be just your cup of tea.