Cover detail of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

You may remember me telling you all about the wonderful present I received from my Strictly ladies. It was a year in books. In a large bag, 12 individually wrapped books with a month of the year on it, 4 each chosen by my ladies. This was a brilliant present, and one which promised a year of reading. I quickly undid the first package to discover The Alice Network by Kate Quinn inside.

Read all about my milestone birthday

I have to say, this is probably not a book I migth necessarily have picked up in the bookshop. An ever-growing To Be Read sometimes stops me from picking up an unknown to me author. It was a Reese's book club pick, and so I dived in and I am so pleased I did! This was moving, brutal and a real page-turner. In fact I spent a lot of my holiday curled up on the couch, reading this with Hattie snoring by my side. So what is it all about?

The Plot

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of the World War II, American college girl Charlie St Clair is pregnant, unmarried and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin, Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her 'little problem' taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loved like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerising Lili, code name Alice, the 'queen of spies' who manages a vast network of spies right under the enemy's nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. That is until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.

My Thoughts

Do you ever follow a set of characters though a book and wish the story will never end? Well this will give you some idea of how I felt about this book. It's a tome of a book, but the pages did just fly by, especially as i wanted to find out more and more about Charlie and Evelyn's story. It is hard-reading, covering the Nazi-occupation in France and the atrocities committed there, but is also full of humanity.

Based on the real life Alice Network run by Louise de Bettignies, leader of the Alice Network who ran female spies during the Great War. Louise is wonderful, full of life and vitality, doing an important job with the threat of capture hanging over her at all times. The author took her inspiration from the arrest of Louise, who was arrested at the same time with a young girl whilst trying to cross a checkpoint on a borrowed pass. Both women were arrested and whilst Louise was kept in prison until her trial and subsequent incarceration, the young girl was released.

Here Kate Quinn has speculated about the young woman, what if she were also a spy? And so our story is born.

Told through dual narrative, we hear Eve's story of becoming a spy during the Great War and being part of the Alice Network before meeting the atrocious Rene Bordelon, who becomes her employer. The other part of the narrative is from Charlie St Clair, grieving for her brother who took his own life at the end of the Second World War and who finds herself pregnant and unmarried and travelling to Europe to have her 'little problem' taken care of.

Charlie is great, as feisty as Eve, determined to find her adored cousin Rose. And so, Eve, Charlie and Eve's driver Finn begin a mission to discover Rose's fate and what happened to Rene Bordelon.

I am struggling to think of a more evil character in fiction than Rene Bordelon and I came to despise him and be horrified by his behaviour.

The book is well-written, well-researched and provides a fitting tribute to Louise, Eve and all the other brave women who gave their lives and served their country spying on the enemy. The novel also contains a theme of the perception that women are seen as either Madonnas or whores, unable to function without the guiding hand of a man.

This was a brilliant book to start my year of books with and I thank my Strictly ladies for gifting me this in January.