The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by Thorndike Press
And once again, I chose a book that moves through time. I think I have a type.
We start out in 1947. World War II is over, but not by much in Europe, which is where we meet Charlotte (Charlie) St. Clair. Charlie is a young American college student, who is in London with her mother to take care of her “little problem”. You see, Charlie is pregnant and unmarried. Still underage, her parents have made the decision for her, so her mother has made an appointment at a clinic in Switzerland. But Charlie has other plans. Not concerning her little problem, she’s still unsure how she feels about that; Charlie has decided to use this trip as an excuse to find her missing cousin Rose.
To Charlie, Rose is more than just her cousin – she’s the older sister that Charlie never had and the person that she has always looked up to. Rose’s family is from France, and while France was occupied, Charlie’s family received word that Rose was missing, presumed dead. But Charlie doesn’t believe that – she’s certain that if Rose was dead she’d know – feel it in her soul somehow. So she hatches a plan, and ditches her mother in London, and armed with just a stranger’s name and address, heads out to solve the puzzle of her missing cousin.
When Charlie arrives at the home of Evelyn (Eve) Gardner, she’s met with a gun wielding drunk. But Charlie is not going to let that stop her. She explains to Eve her reason for looking her up, and tries to convince her to help her find Rose. After laying out the very limited information that she has about the last time Rose was seen, Eve declines. But whether due to the lateness of the hour, or something that Charlie said, in a moment of weakness Eve allows Charlie to stay the night – but wants her gone at first light. But we all know that if Charlie leaves, there wouldn’t be a story. Eve eventually agrees and sets out for France with Charlie, along with her caretaker/driver Finn, who has a story of his own.
Flashback to 1915 – Evelyn Gardiner longs to join the war effort, but being a woman her chances are pretty slim. Until the day that she’s recruited to join a network of spies. At first she’s not sure why she was chosen; what she doesn’t realize is that she has three unique qualifications. One – she’s fluent in French and German; two – she has a stammer, which makes many people that meet her think she’s a bit on the dim side; and three – but maybe the most important, she’s a very, very good liar.
Once recruited and trained, Eve is sent to France for her first assignment with the Alice Network. There is a restaurant in France that caters to high ranking German occupiers. Eve must be hired as a waitress in order to eavesdrop on their conversations, and report back. Armed with her stammer, speaking fluent French, and feigning ignorance of the German language, Eve is hired.
And so the story moves between Charlie’s search for Rose in the aftermath of World War II; and Eve’s past as a spy during World War I. Each story is compelling, and told beautifully even when describing the horrors of war. I love Quinn’s writing and pace. She takes her time with each of the characters, and although each one is given a fair amount of backstory, its Eve’s story that takes center stage.
This is one of those books that stay with you long after you read the last page, and there are a few things that really stood out among the telling of the war and the spy network: the heartbreaking way that Charlie imagines she sees Rose every time she sees a young girl that resembles her; the way Finn delicately deals with Eve and the humor he uses with Charlie; how the three of them bond, and help each other with their own nightmares and insecurities; and lastly, how Charlie begins to come to terms with her pregnancy and her own coming of age.
Lastly, to make it even more interesting – The Alice Network is based on a real spy network, with one of the characters in the book based on the true life of Louise Bettignies, the leader of the Alice Network, which has a pretty interesting history.
Link to Kate Quinn’s page:
Kate Quinn’s Website
Follow Kate Quinn on Twitter: @KateQuinnAuthor
If you like this type of spy story, with strong female leads, then I also highly recommend “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. I listened to the audio version of this, and it was spectacular.
Link to the Wiki page for Louise Bettignies, who ran the Alice Network:
Louise de Bettignies