Lulu in Marrakech, By Diane Johnson

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Diane Johnson's elegant, Jamesian sentences can take a little getting used to, and the coldness of her protagonist, US secret service agent Lulu Sawyer, might keep the reader at arm's length to begin with. But however unlikely the premise – the aimless daughter of wealthy hippy parents becomes a government agent – this novel unwinds beautifully, particularly when Lulu's relationship with her British boyfriend takes centre stage over the requirements of her mission.

Lulu is in Marrakech to locate wealthy donors to radical Islamic groups, by forging local contacts and making friends with powerful people. It's a tricky task, however, and Johnson expertly parallels the activities of the secret agent with the hidden motives that propel love affairs, almost as if to posit love itself as an underhand, counterfeit activity. All sorts of pretences take place in a relationship, as in a professional spying game, and Johnson has much fun with Lulu. On her arrival in the country she is made to take part in a cringe-worthy and smug ex-pat production of Othello. But her increasing sensitivity to cultural slights and gestures of love make her a compelling heroine.

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