The beginning and the end of Kate Quinn’s thrilling The Alice Network seem like two different books—I mean, if it weren’t for the fact that Charlie St. Clair appears in both. At the beginning of the book, Charlie is a nineteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant. This being 1947, her wealthy parents have whisked her away to Europe to take care of her Little Problem. By the end of the novel, Charlie is a battle hardened young woman who has gone way above her pay grade to track down an evil man. The person who connects the beginning and the end of The Alice Network is Eve Gardiner; Eve is an ex-spy haunted by her experiences during the First World War and a hunger for revenge. Readers, this book is an incredible ride.
I felt for Charlie right from page one. The poor girl feels embarrassed and troubled enough even without her Maman hectoring her about her appearance and the way Charlie has probably ruined her life. And I definitely don’t blame her for escaping as soon as she arrives in England (on her way to Switzerland for an abortion). I was surprised at Charlie’s motivation. Her primary reason for absconding to London to track down Even Gardiner is to find her beloved cousin, Rose, who the family has not heard of since 1943. While Charlie was in New York during World War II, Rose was in France and may have gotten involved with the Resistance. Everyone but Charlie is convinced that Rose died. But when Charlie tracks down the volatile Eve, she has no idea what can of worms she has stumbled into.
Charlie has to work hard to get Eve to even agree to try to look for Rose. By 1947, Eve is a hard-drinking, traumatized wreck of a woman with mangled hands. But in 1915, as we learn in flashback chapters that alternate with Charlie’s story in 1947, Eve was a determined young woman who wants to fight for her country. She is fluent in three languages and might have been a shoo-in to the nursing corps or some other kind of war work if it weren’t for her stutter. No one gives her a second glance until a British intelligence officer figures out that she is a half-French polyglot. The officer barely has to sell being a spy to Eve before she signs up and is off for training. Eve is deployed to German-occupied Lille, to join the Alice Network run by the delightfully outrageous and fantastically competent Louise de Bettignies.
In Charlie’s chapters, she, Eve, and Eve’s driver, former soldier Finn Kilgore, set off for France (after Charlie drops the name of the last person she knows Rose worked for before she disappeared) to try and find Charlie’s missing cousin. In Eve’s chapters, we learn about her harrowing career as a spy and the compromises she has to make to gather information. Every chapter reveals more about the horrors of the wars in France under the Germans, as well as more about the tangled paths Rose and Even had to follow. A name leads to a location, which leads to more secrets and another lead. It would be easy to give up because those leads are so often the merest hints. Charlie and Eve might be on wild goose chases; their firm belief in moving forward, with the support of Finn (who I now have a fictional crush on), keeps them going.
I checked The Alice Network out from the library almost as soon as I finished reading The Huntress, another amazing book about strong women, war, and the aftermath of war crimes. I wanted more and I was not disappointed by The Alice Network. The Alice Network‘s pace never lets up; I barely put it down because I had to know if Rose was still alive and if Eve would get revenge on the man who she believes broke her. I loved the fully realized characters and their emotional journeys on the roads of France. What truly astounded me about this book—and the book was pretty damned fantastic—was how much is based on actual history. Quinn writes about her inspiration in an afterword and how she used the historical record to create this outstanding novel.