The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network is great for any reader who loves women’s fiction, historical novels or spy stories. Kate Quinn smoothly blends all three for a gripping page-turner about women spies in World War I, revenge and atonement, with a nice love story sprinkled in.

The story follows two women; Charlotte, an American heiress in 1947, and Evelyn Gardiner during World War I. Charlotte is traveling with her mother, heading to Switzerland for an “appointment” to clear up a “little problem,” but her real concern is the disappearance of her French cousin Rose during World War II. Charlotte evades her mother in England and tracks down someone she thinks will be able to help her; a drunken, foul-mouthed, bitter woman whose hands are badly deformed. This is Evelyn, or Eve, Gardiner. Once she sobers up, Eve grudgingly agrees to help for money. She Charlotte and Eve’s loyal driver Finn set off from England to France.

From here we begin to get the story of Eve’s early years as a spy in northern France during World War I. The characters’ points of view alternate, until they converge around a particular villain who affected the lives of both women.

Quinn did research on the spy networks during the first World War, and especially a secondary character (who was real) Louise de Bettignies, also known as the queen of spies. Quinn’s descriptions are thorough and harrowing, and characters are well-drawn, often with just a few lines of choice dialogue. After World War II, Charlotte still faces discrimination and the diminishment of her rights because of her sex and her age. The three main characters all have to address mistakes they’ve made, and they all have to acknowledge how deeply damaged they are.

The sections in France during the war are nail-bitingly suspenseful.

I found a couple of anachronisms (Charolotte talks about “blowing off “ her classes at Bennington, in 1947) but overall the writing here is graceful and fluent. These are characters you want to root for, and another uncovered secret of the real roles of women in history. Buy it as a gift for someone, and then get a copy for yourself. You’ll want to read it more than once.

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