I listened to this one on Audible – figured it’s the kind of story I’m usually interested in but also am more hesitant to pick up nowadays because the genre does sometimes blend together so it seemed like the perfect selection for, “damn, how did I end up with so many Audible credits, I have no idea what I want!”
The novel begins in 1947 with nineteen-year-old Charlie on her way to Switzerland for a procedure to take care of “her little problem.” The last few years have been a bit hard on her family – her mother is originally French, and Charlie’s beloved French cousin Rose, who went missing during the war, is assumed dead. Her older brother returned from the war but killed himself. Charlie and her mother have a night long stop in England, and Charlie uses that as an opportunity to leave her mother behind. After the war, her father inquired about Rose’s fate with the British war office, and Charlie has taken those documents, intending to track down concrete answers on where Rose ended up. This leads her to the door of Evelyn Gardiner, a cynical, angry drunk with damaged hands who worked for the war office and signed off on the report. She is ready to dismiss the annoying American until Charlie shows her a letter included in the report to her father that did not make it across Evelyn’s desk. The name of the restaurant and its owner capture her attention, and Eve agrees to go to France with Charlie and Finn, Evelyn’s driver to find answers and face unresolved issues from their past.
The novel flashes back and forth between the 1947 journey of discovery and World War I era France. The 1947 pieces are 1st person narration, while the 1915 sections are third person limited. Eve, a young multilingual woman who looks younger than her age and has a face that easily hides her thoughts, is recruited to spy for the English war effort, and jumps on the opportunity, bored with filing papers in London. She was specifically recruited to apply for waitress position at an upscale restaurant frequented by German officers in a small town in France. Fortunately, she succeeds in the interview with the manager, Rene, and her spy career begins. Eve knows only two other spies in her area, Lily because she is her main contact and Violet, because she has medical experience.
Overall, I enjoyed the Evelyn parts of the story more because those were focused on the actual war years, even if there were many times during that narrative where it was hard not to feel bad thanks to historical knowledge – every time the women took a risk for information they thought might end the war, I could only sit back and think, “it’s 1915 and the war won’t end until 1918.” The information and their work and that of the real women they were based on was absolutely important but they were definitely in for a long haul!
However, I appreciate that Quinn didn’t decide to do two parallel war stories and instead dealt more with the after effects of World War II, how people couldn’t simply return to their lives and were still plagued by PTSD and other issues later on, how they continued to have questions about their loved ones and what happened to them. While I am not sure if this is one of those books that I will recall a few years down the road as having a deep impact, it is certainly a story worth reading! I read a World War II novel from three perspectives recently, and had some issues with the execution – it might seem like faint phrase to say that I have no similar complaints about this one, but it really isn’t – it can be hard to have an engaging story and to do right by characters, and Quinn absolutely succeeded in doing that.