I grabbed this book during my last in-person visit to the library where I was panic grabbing books to stock up prior to the closure. I’ve been a big fan of Reese’s book club and dove back to the beginning: this was the second of her picks (I had already read and enjoyed her first pick, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.” This book was interesting but took a lot for me to get through, which I think was a combo of it’s hard to focus during a pandemic AND it’s a bit dense.
WWII has recently ended and young Charlie St. Clair is knocked up, heading with her mother to Switzerland to get an abortion, and desperate to try to find her cousin who went missing, presumed dead. She escapes her mother, manages to follow a lead, and meets Evelyn: drunk, cantankerous, with gnarled hands, personal demons and a dismissive attitude. This is both the story of the present mystery, what has happened to Charlie’s cousin during WWII, and the story of Evelyn’s history as a spy during WWI.
What was really cool was that this historical fiction had a real history element. In the afterword, Quinn detailed what was pulled from the history books, and where she elaborated and took some liberties. The biggest is that, Louise the Bettignies, aka Alice was real and her story was more or less true, in fact, one notable incident in the book wherein she was recognized at a train station by someone who knew her real identity, but got away without incident, and in fact, with a free ride to her destination was real. Fascinating! She was the secondary character in the book wherein Evelyn and her experience in the network was a work of fiction. For me, that makes the story all the more rich and interesting, and I’m glad to know about the heroics of women during this time period.