This recent pick for Reese Witherspoon’s online book club, “The Alice Network” details the work of a female spy ring that spanned both World Wars. It’s just after WWII and Charlotte (“Charlie”) St. Clair is on her way to a Swiss clinic to save her from impending motherhood when she bolts to London to track down Eve Gardiner, a woman she believes may have information about Charlie’s cousin Rose. Rose disappeared during the war, and Charlie is willing to do whatever it takes to locate her. Eve turns out to be an old grouchy drunk with a loaded Luger pistol. Her disfigured hands require the assistance of a driver/cook, and so former soldier, Finn, provides though tasks while keeping Eve (and others) safely out of pistol range. Charlie blunders onto the scene, demanding what connections Eve might have to discover Rose’s whereabouts. The unlikely trio sets off to France to find Eve’s former contacts. Finn, Charlie, and Eve all have deep war wounds they are trying to overcome, but it isn’t until they share each other’s wounds that they are able to make peace with their pasts.
Interspersed in the WWII story is Eve’s tale as a member of the Alice Network spy ring in WWI. Eve is a brave young woman with a stammer who wants more out of life than secretarial work when she is recruited to be a spy. Fluent in English, French, and German, Eve is sent to Lille to work undercover at a restaurant that German officers frequent. The flamboyant head of that spy ring, Louise de Bettignies, becomes Eve’s mentor and dear friend. When the spy ring is compromised and the members of the network imprisoned, everything Eve held dear – her work, her friend, her sense of honor – are taken away. That is until decades later, Charlie comes knocking on her door with answers to many of Eve’s lingering questions.
Highlighting the unsung female operatives of both World Wars is splendid. The author’s note explains how many real-life stories she used to write this book, and it’s wonderful to see those women’s tales finally told. Spy work was not considered honorable work back then, but that was doubly true for the women, many of whom went unrecognized by history. Louise’s life, in particular, is moving. Eve is a solid main character, tough as nails and thoroughly absorbing. She pulls you into the story. I do have to agree though with many other Goodreads reviewers who said that Charlie holds much promise but somehow never fully delivers. The search for her missing cousin, her romance with Finn, and the overlap between her story and Eve’s just lines up too neatly. It feels like convenient filler to put in between Eve’s WWI pieces rather than being a plot line unto itself.
A solid choice for your beach reading list, even if somewhat uneven. You may need to overlook the hiccups but what’s underneath is worth the adventure.
Amazon link is here.