By Matt Killeen
28TH AUGUST 1939
Finally, the car came to a stop. With difficulty, Sarah opened her eyes, blinked to clear her vision and looked up from her hiding place in the footwell. Her mother was slumped in the driver’s seat, her head against the top of the steering wheel. She was gazing through the spokes to where Sarah crouched. Her mother’s eyes were almost the same, wide and pretty. Her pupils were so big Sarah could nearly see herself in them. But now they seemed dull. Her mother was no longer in there.
Sarah reached out, but something hot dripped onto her hand and she snatched it back. Her palm was bright red next to her white fingers.
Laufen, dumme Schlampe!
Sarah could hear the voice in her head, but her mother’s lips weren’t moving. Her nose was blocked and her eyes hurt. The pain was a fog across her thinking. Again she heard it. Laufen! Run! She looked at her mother’s face once more, in time to see her forehead slide off the top of the wheel. The eyes, still staring, now regarded the floor. Laufen. Just run. Sarah thought the voice was her own.
The door handle turned, but the door didn’t open. She tried again. It opened a crack, but she was pushing against the whole weight of the door, as if up a hill. Her hand was slick with blood, so she rubbed it on her coat and tried again. By sticking her shoulder against the door panel she managed to heave it wide open, spilling the cold light of evening into the car. She scrambled up and out. The Mercedes had come to rest in the ditch by the roadside, its nose buried in a warehouse fence.
Sarah looked into the car and saw what the bullet had done to the back of her mother’s head. She fought a wave of nausea as the door swung shut, but she felt nothing else. Not yet.
Her heart was beating fast and loud in her ears, the air stinging her nose. Her neck felt hot. Behind her, the soldiers from the checkpoint were just rounding the distant corner that she and her mother had careened around moments ago, just before the shot. There were voices, shouts, running feet on the asphalt. Dogs began to bark. They were closing. Where now? What now?
Sarah flung herself onto the warm bonnet and crawled across it towards the break the car had made in the warehouse fence. The shards of broken windscreen tore at her hands and knees. She slid off into the brambles and then pushed through them on all fours, picking up splinters of wood, thorns and broken glass.
Don’t look back. Keep going. Ignore the pain in your hands and knees. Laufen.
She let the voice run riot in her head as she broke through the fence. Her voice? Her mother’s? It didn’t matter.
Onto your feet now. That’s it. Laufen, laufen, run, run.
She sprinted into an alley between two old buildings, kicking up the sludge deposited by overflowing gutters. Looking up, she could see the rusting gutters hanging from the roof edges, the leaf litter that blocked the drains. About two metres high. Too high. Too precarious. But this claustrophobic corridor continued into the distance and she could hear the dogs closing.
Get up there, dumme Schlampe.
Don’t call me that.
Well, you’re being one. What kind of a gymnast are you?
A Jewish gymnast. Not permitted to compete.
You’re a dead Jewish gymnast if you don’t move. Are you hardy? Pious? Cheerful? Free?
Sarah found herself laughing at the old saying. What would Jahn, the father of gymnastics, think of a Jew – Deutschlands Unglück, Germany’s misfortune – using his words as inspiration? So she put a skip into her step, ignoring the tightness in her calves, the pain in her neck, the chance of slipping, repeating, “Frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei, hardy, pious, cheerful, free,” with her eyes on the gutter all the way. She launched herself into the air, caught the troughs neatly on either side and swung herself up and to the right, the metal creaking and complaining as she went. She hit the corrugated iron roof with a crash, slid for a second and stopped just shy of the roof’s edge.
Beat that, Trudi Meyer. I’ll have your gold medal now, danke.
She lay unmoving, staring into the vast and darkening silver sky, the sense of triumph slowly ebbing away like the light in the west. It was leaving a cold sensation in her stomach. If she couldn’t calm her breathing they would hear her. She thought about that last look back into the Mercedes, then pushed the memory away. She put it in a special box and closed the lid. She looked at the emptiness above and listened.
Over her heaving chest she could hear the dogs. The shouting grew closer. Then there were muffled footsteps – a soldier was walking between the buildings. The noise was too indistinct to work out how far away he was and her breathing was too loud, much too loud. She counted two seconds, took one last long breath and clamped her mouth shut. She realized she could just make out a star where the sky was darkest. She also discovered she couldn’t breathe through her nose, so all she had to do was keep her lips together.
Footsteps, right below her.
A star. Or a planet. Was it Venus? The feet stopped. Planet. Star.
There was movement, the sound of material scraping against the brickwork. The gutter creaked. Her chest began to throb as the pressure grew. There was loud breathing and the sound of boots against the wall. More pressure, more pain, the urge to spring to her feet and run away. She turned her head very slowly to see thick, dirty fingers gripping the lip of the gutter. Inside her head she started to scream. She wanted to open her mouth and let it out. So, so much.
At that moment there was a snap, a tearing and a shriek. The gutter, the dirty fingers and heavy breathing vanished in a cascading crash. There was swearing. Shouting. Catcalls. Laughter. Footsteps receding. Quiet. Distant barking.
Sarah opened her mouth and let the breath explode out of her lungs. She gulped down the cool air. Her shoulders rose and fell and rose again because she couldn’t stop them. She began, quietly, to sob.
You have 0 of these in your Basket.
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2019
Shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Children's Book Award.
A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.
Sarah has played many roles – but now she faces her most challenging of all. Because there's only one way for a Jewish orphan spy to survive at a school for the Nazi elite. And that's to become a monster like them.
Survive. Deceive. Resist.
They think she is just a little girl. But she is the weapon they never saw coming... with a mission to destroy them all.
“Deeply disturbing and chillingly good.”
Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity
“a pulse-pounding, pitch-black Nazi espionage thriller... Killeen sets a cracking pace - and pulls off the risks he takes with breathtaking panache.”
Imogen Russell Williams, The Guardian
Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham and, like many of his generation, was absorbed by tales of the war and obsessed with football from an early age. Guitars arrived at fourteen, wrecking any hopes of so-called normality. He has had a great many careers – some creative, some involving laser guns – and has made a living as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist. He fulfilled a childhood ambition and became a writer for the world’s best-loved toy company in 2010. He lives near London with his soulmate, children, dog and musical instruments, looking wistfully north at a hometown that has been largely demolished & rebuilt in his lengthy absence. Orphan Monster Spy is his first novel.
See more readers’ reviews at Goodreads.com.
Read the following reviews or write one of your own.
“Orphan Monster Spy”
An amazing read! Suspenseful, intense and at times disturbing. It is clear a lot of research went into this novel. I loved Sarah, the heroine of the story, and the book has really developed my interest in historical fiction. I have been reading a number of books recently and this is definitely my favourite.
Yumi Lee, review for Teen Titles
“Orphan Monster Spy”
Orphan Monster Spy is about a Jewish girl called Sarah, living just before the Second World War in Berlin. She is recruited by a British spy and is sent to an elite Nazi boarding school to befriend the daughter of a nuclear physicist. This book is both terrifying and compelling, describing life in the heart of Nazi Germany. I highly recommend Orphan Monster Spy to readers of 13+
Iona (age 13)
“this clever novel explores how unacceptable attitudes can take hold, which makes it timely as well as tense.”
The Sunday Times
“a thought-provoking and incredibly page-turning debut.”
The Irish Times
“Non-stop action imbued with historical facts bring a timely, unflinching reminder of the horrors of war to life.”
Zoe James Williams, Swansea Life
“Set in a brilliant, terrifyingly-imagined third reich Germany, Orphan Monster Spy's Sarah sits alongside Lyra and True Grit's Mattie Ross as one of the best spiky, clever, daring, unyielding protagonists I've read.”
Martin Stewart, author of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize-longlisted Riverkeep
“Sarah is an intelligent and resilient heroine and Orphan Monster Spy is a real page-turner that will take you from one drama to the next without pausing for breath.”
Clair Bossons, school librarian - ReadingZone
“Delivers dark, disturbing truths, wrapped tight in a story that twists turns and threatens to stab you in the back.”
Non Pratt, author of Second Best Friend
“A riveting plot-driven thriller...Sarah's psychological journey is particularly compelling.”
Fiona Noble, The Bookseller
“Killeen expertly conjures the day-to-day evil of Nazi Germany in this terrific page turner.”
Paul Dowswell, author of Auslander
“I found myself mesmerized by Sarah’s journey into a world of human monsters. Orphan Monster Spy weaves one heroine’s courage through a spectrum of darkness, and the effects resonate long after the final page.”
Ryan Graudin, award-winning author of the Wolf By Wolf duology
“Sarah's story makes for a compelling adventure thriller that draws upon some of the darkest hours from human history. It cleverly achieves a balance between gripping page-turner and a novel with real heart and profound comment around compassion and humanity. Highly recommended.”
Jake Hope, Chair of CILIP Carnegie Greenaway Judges
“I devoured this book. It is insanely good! Action-packed, thrill-a-minute so make sure you pick this one up.”
No Safer Place
“timely novel…with a comic book hero-style central character…Sarah is refreshing and empowering.”
Brum Radio Book Show
“Sarah...was an awesome kick-ass protagonist...A white-knuckle surge through some terrifying rapids of plot-twists and drama.”
Coffee, Stars, Books
“the detailed, emotionally genuine and historically accurate nature of the writing entirely won me over.”
Armadillo Children's Book Review Magazine
“the novel feels well-researched and certainly deserves a place in any secondary school library.”
Lin Smith, The School Librarian