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Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Alice network

Kate Quinn explores the true story of female spies in France during WWI with her novel The Alice Network. At a time when women’s suffrage was still being fought for in much of the western world, it seems extraordinary that women were chosen to take on dangerous missions behind enemy lines, eavesdropping to learn about troop movements and upcoming attacks, or helping allied servicemen escape back to their regiments.

We meet Evelyn Gardiner, a British spy posing as a French waitress, whose knowledge of German helps her to garner information at the only decent restaurant in Lille, where enemy officers live it up in their downtime. If only the owner could keep his hands to himself. Her handler is Alice Dubois, an actual wartime spy.

But the story is also about nineteen-year-old New Yorker, Charlie St Clair, who wants to find her lost French cousin, Rose. It’s 1947, and in a different war, Rose seems to have disappeared without a trace. Evelyn, now a bitter and belligerent drunk, had been working at a bureau to locate refugees, but her correspondence with Charlie’s father makes the assumption Rose is dead.

Undaunted, despite being in Europe with her mother to sort out an unplanned pregnancy, Charlie escapes to locate Evelyn and persuade her to help her to find Rose. Somehow Charlie and Evelyn team up with Evelyn’s hired help, Finn Kilgore, and the three hare off to France in Kilgore’s aging Lagonda.

It all turns into a crazy kind of road trip, where the three get on each other’s nerves and then learn to get along, while Evelyn’s past is told in alternating chapters that keep you rattling through the pages. As Charlie pieces together the events of Rose’s war, the past catches up with the present and the plot steams towards a thrilling finish.

The Alice Network is a gripping read, tempered by disturbing facts to do with wartime atrocities and betrayals. I was keen to learn about what women spies got up to and how they were treated, the execution of real-life heroine Edith Cavell a grim reminder that this was no picnic. Kate Quinn is a popular author, with a backlist that includes a series set in Ancient Rome. Her recent work is centred on the two world wars, her new book The Rose Code is also in the library.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Alice Network
C
atalogue link: The Rose Code

17 September 2021

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