I found this novel so captivating! I often think that I don’t really care for historical fiction and I’m not sure why that idea is in my head, especially after reading The Alice Network. The word that actually popped into my head as I read along was “delightful” but that’s not exactly the right kind of word for a story about female spies in the first World War and a young woman searching for her cousin after the second World War. I think maybe “delightful” was the word because I thoroughly enjoyed the stories all the way through. That’s right, stories as The Alice Network tells Eve’s story, which begins in 1915, and Charlie’s story, which begins in 1947.
The first chapter begins in 1947 and is focused on Charlie St. Clair who is a young college woman who finds herself pregnant and is embarking on a trip to Europe with her mother to take care of her “problem”. Charlie also holds out hope that she will find her cousin, Rose, on this trip – Rose went missing in France during the war and Charlie has only a clue about where she might go to find her cousin. And that clue leads her to Eve Gardiner, a drunk older woman who is somehow connected and their connection leads them on the journey to find Rose for Charlie but something else for Eve.
The second chapter goes back to 1915 and while Charlie tells her story, Eve’s story is woven throughout. Eve was a spy in German occupied France during WWI and her story was incredibly compelling. Eve was part of the Alice Network, named for the “queen of spies” who trains and manages Eve. I’ve read other spy novels but this one moved along so quickly, providing enough historical context but never getting buried in the details (I’ve found this in other historical fiction I’ve read – details that are somewhat interesting but not needed for the story). The danger was palpable as I read along and I found myself hooked on the book because each chapter went back and forth between the two stories and I just had to know. What made Eve who she is when Charlie meets her, why is she on this journey with Charlie and can Charlie find Rose? Also, what to make of the handsome Scottish man who drives them through France! I admit, I stayed up way too late to finish this one and both stories delivered on all fronts.
And it’s what I learned after finishing that made the book even that much better. The “queen of spies” mentioned above – Alice Dubois also known as Lilli (both spy names) – was actually a real secret agent and some of the activities that Eve learned about and passed on, were actual events that took place in Lille, France during the occupation. I didn’t know this before I read the book but I realized it made for an even more exciting read! I wasn’t sure about this one because of my “hang-up” for historical fiction but I think I’m going to let that idea go. I thoroughly enjoyed it and realized that there are a couple other books on my shelf that I’ve really enjoyed over the past few years that fall into the category.
P.S. The hatbox in the picture is in place of a “morally questionable hat”. Read the book to find the reference!