I have been waiting to read The Alice Network for what feels like forever. I nearly bought it despite having an ever growing TBR pile on my bookshelves that I promised myself (well, really my husband) I’d pare down before buying anything new. Either way I’m glad I held out because I actually got my hands on the audio version through the library and it was a great listen.
Kate Quinn weaves real history, namely Louise de Bettignies and her network of female spies, with fiction into a superb novel full of strong female characters. The Alice Network begins a few years after World War II with math whiz Charlie St. Clair coming from New York to England. Charlie is a young college student who is being sent overseas to take care of the “little problem” she came home from college with. During her stopover in England, on their way to Switzerland, Charlie sneaks away from her mother to seek out Eve Gardner, a woman who may have information regarding Charlie’s missing cousin, Rose.
Eve, who initially threatens to shoot Charlie for knocking on her door, reluctantly takes Charlie’s “case” to find Rose. The reader quickly discovers Eve has ulterior motives to joining Charlie’s wild goose chase but the two women along with Eve’s driver, Finn, make for an impeccable sleuthing team. Our heroines (and hero) head off to France and alternate narration between the past and “present.” This is one of the rare instances where I didn’t have a preference for one story over the other- both women had strong voices and both story arcs were well done.
“The idea made her sick and scared, but so what? Why did it matter if something scared you, when it simply had to be done anyway?”
Charlie’s story in the “present day” revolves mostly around her search for her cousin, Rose. Near the end of World War II Rose disappeared and the family, excluding Charlie, has presumed her dead for a few years. After Charlie’s brother, haunted by his time in the Army, commits suicide Charlie feels completely abandoned and becomes desperate to find her cousin. During their search Charlie really grows into her own, becoming an independent woman with a growing attachment to the “little problem” she came to Europe to fix.
Eve’s story begins in England, at the onset of World War I, where she is selected to train as a spy because she speaks German and French. She gets a job as a waitress in Lille, France in a restaurant run by a Nazi collaborator and war profiteer. Eve, going by the name Marguerite Le Francois, eavesdrops on the Nazi officers who patron Le Lethe. The men are unaware the quiet waitress speaks German and their lose lips lead to valuable intel which Eve reports to the leader of the “Alice Network,” a woman she knows as Lili.
But I will tell you this, René Bordelon. You’re a gullible fool. You’re a terrible lover. And I hate Baudelaire.
The Alice Network is a coming of age story as well as a redemptive one as Eve, Rose and Charlie’s stories eventually come together in a well crafted climax that I don’t want to give away. Quinn’s research really shows; she expertly weaves facts and fiction together into an amazing novel that everyone should read.