Emergency in the Pyrenees is the fifth book in the enormously entertaining Julia Probyn series. Or should I say Julia Jamieson, as our heroine has married Colonel Philip Jamieson who she met in her last adventure, The Dangerous Islands. Julia is pregnant & Philip decides that she should spend a few months over the summer at a farmhouse at Larége in the Pyrenees. Philip works for British Intelligence & has an overseas job that will take him away for July & August & considers that Larége will have a beneficial effect on his unborn child. Julia’s godmother & friend, Mrs Hathaway, is horrified by the suggestion. Larége is remote, Julia will know nobody & she proposes to go alone. Fortunately Mrs Hathaway insists that Julia should not be alone & Julia asks Luzia, the daughter of the Duke of Ericeira to accompany her. This turns out to be an excellent idea as Larége is definitely remote. The farmhouse has no servants, water & fuel have to be carried from some distance away &, without a car, Julia is effectively isolated.
Julia realizes as soon as she arrives at the farmhouse that Philip’s idea was totally impractical. Thankfully, Luzia arrives & takes over the housekeeping. Julia meets the Heriots, a Scottish Lord & his family who have lived in Pau, the nearest town to Larége, for years. Lord & Lady Heriot & their twin sons, Nick & Dick, are happy to show Julia around & the boys are soon both in love with Luzia. Julia’s cousin, Colin Munro, who also works for Intelligence, is also in the area, keeping an eye out for saboteurs crossing the border with Spain, intent on sabotaging the gasworks at nearby Lacq. Colin is especially interested in a local man, an ex-Resistance member, Bonnecourt, who is a well-known mountain guide & hunter. Bonnecourt is suspected of being the means by which the saboteurs enter France. He also helped to smuggle out many Allied airmen during the war & other civilians too, including an old couple called Smith who owed their lives & their remaining cash, to Bonnecourt’s ingenuity.
Colin soon arrives at Larége & spends his time investigating the various routes over the frontier. One day he sees two men, one considerably older than the other, on the mountain. The older man falls & Colin helps to rescue him & get him to hospital. Colin suspects these men of being saboteurs & this is confirmed when the younger man meets with Bonnecourt & is then seen by Luzia hiding a knapsack that turns out to contain the makings of a sophisticated bomb. Colin’s actions bring the French police & the secret service, the Sûreté, to Larége & suddenly his movements are watched & his own work is hampered. Colin learns that Bonnecourt was one of the SOE’s finest agents during WWII, using the name Bernardin. His superiors in London remember Bernardin fondly & Colin has to do his utmost to protect him & get him out of France.
Luzia leaves Julia overnight to stay with the Heriots who are giving a ball. Julia goes into premature labour after a fall &, with no way of contacting Colin who is late back from his scouting activities, it’s Bonnecourt who arrives at the farmhouse & gets Julia to a clinic in Pau where her child is born. Philip arrives soon after & both he & Julia begin to wonder if marriage & his job can really be managed successfully. It becomes clear that Bonnecourt must leave the area before he’s arrested & Colin, Philip & the Heriot boys come up with a plan to get him away. Luzia, meanwhile, gives Philip a well-deserved dressing-down about the whole Larége idea.
Emergency in the Pyrenees is a much more domestic novel than the earlier books in the series. It begins with the story of the potential saboteurs hoping to destroy France’s gas supply, but no credible threat ever emerges. The men Colin sees on the mountain are incompetent agents who even carry a map that has their meeting place with Bonnecourt marked with a cross; they’re no real threat. The story is much more focused on Julia’s life at Larége, the suspense over her pregnancy & which of the Heriot boys Luzia will fall in love with. Even though the espionage plot was a bit of a fizzer, I enjoyed the book very much. Julia is an interesting character although she seems a little diminished by her marriage. Her pregnancy means she can’t be as active as she was in the earlier books & Luzia takes more of a leading role, much to Colin’s irritation at times.
Emergency in the Pyrenees was published in 1965 & I have to say how surprised I was by the references to Julia smoking & drinking during her pregnancy “to calm her down” or to relax her. Surely the bad effects of smoking especially would have been known by the 60s? It shows how much our thinking on such matters has changed that I winced every time she did either! As always, Ann Bridge’s descriptions of the setting of the novel were evocative. The farmhouse, the local village, the mountains & the town of Pau were beautifully described. The horrors of French bureaucracy were also highlighted with a really personal fervour that made me wonder what might have happened to the author when she was in France. The minor characters were also well-observed. Lady Heriot, kind, shrewd & very practical & Bonnecourt, cagey, clever & more worried about his ancient Bugatti than his wife, were my favourites. Emergency in the Pyrenees is an entertaining novel with more domesticity & less adventure than I expected but I enjoyed it very much & I’m looking forward to Julia’s next outing.