Marisa Carnarvon is an enigma to her family.
She grows up in moneyed comfort in pre-war Mosman on Sydney’s north shore, but confounds her snobbish, status-obsessed mother by opting to become a nurse.
Marisa is utterly unprepared for the lessons of life that nursing will teach her; likewise she is unprepared for the deception necessitated by her passionate affair with her father’s exotic Russian business partner.
But Marisa’s life has more surprises in store.
In 1938 she sails for London to nurse in a major city hospital and where a new world awaits. The endless colour and diversity of London present a sublime experience for the young nurse with her sheltered background. But this is merely the start. Against the backdrop of steadily brewing conflict, Marisa accepts an offer to join a Red Cross hospital in Paris in July 1939.
In June 1940, the Germans invade Paris and the Red Cross Hospital shelters behind the fragile armour of its neutrality. Marisa’s determination to adhere to the hospital’s strict neutrality is shaken by a confrontation with the leader of the local resistance cell who pressures the young nurse to work for the fledgling movement. Reluctantly she agrees, setting out to deceive the hospital’s ever-vigilant matron.
Marisa’s tangled life is further complicated by the arrival of a new Gestapo chief in Paris, a man who is young, attractive and beguilingly clever. He seduces Marisa and she responds, egged on by the resistance for whom this is a god-given opportunity. Marisa feels increasingly out of her depth, treading a fine line between the resistance, her Gestapo lover, and the strident neutrality of the Red Cross.
As the war approaches its agonised climax, Marisa’s position becomes ever more precarious as the resistance is convinced that there is a traitor in the organisation. Suspicion falls on one of the hospital’s doctors and he is promptly murdered.
Marisa now finds herself in the resistance firing line.
As the Allies approach, Marisa’s Gestapo lover flees to Switzerland and the young nurse follows, unsure how she will live with her troubled conscience. But the end of the war produces a revelation that shocks her to the core. The identity of a key operator in an escape line that traversed four countries is finally revealed. He is hailed as a saviour, a title he rejects, revealing in turn the identity of the man who was the true master of the enterprise. But this man is dead—arrested and tortured by Klaus Barbie before being deported to Dachau despite frantic efforts to save him.
Only in the final chapter is the burden of guilt for this man’s death lifted, assuaged by the words of an elderly Jewish pianist he has rescued and who reveals to him how he can pay his debt.
For Marisa, this is the beginning of a new chapter in which she discovers the true identity of the man who danced with deception — a man who risked his life to save others in a masterpiece of subterfuge.
About The Author
Catherine McCullagh grew up in Tasmania in a family that loved bushwalking, reading and history. She trained as a history and language teacher before embarking on a twenty-year career in the Australian Regular Army as a teacher, linguist and editor of military doctrine and history. She then left the Army and established herself as a freelance editor, primarily in military history.
Fifteen years later, inspired by the extraordinary stories that surrounded her, she launched a new career, this time as a writer. She has published three non-fiction works, Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of Australian Army nursing, War Child, a poignant wartime memoir which she ghost-wrote with Annette Janic, and Unconquered, which tells the remarkable stories of a group of competitors at the 2018 Invictus Games.
Catherine’s first historical novel, Dancing with Deception, a wartime drama that follows a young Australian nurse caught in the German occupation of Paris, was published in 2017 and was highly commended at the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards that year. War Child was also highly commended at the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards in the year of its release. Her second historical novel, Secrets and Showgirls, also set in occupied Paris, was published in 2021 and has been shortlisted for the Society of Women Writers (NSW) Book of the Year.
Catherine followed these early novels with Love and Retribution (released in 2022), a sweeping story that transports the reader from a Cornish fishing village to U-boat bases and the Hamburg War Crimes Trials. Catherine’s first novel, Dancing with Deception, was re-released in November 2022, while her next novel, Resistance and Revenge, an alternate history based on the premise that Britain lost the war and was invaded, is due for release in May 2023.