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THE ALICE NETWORK
by Kate Quinn
William Morrow, June 2017
568 pages
$16.99
ISBN: 0062654195


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Based on true historical events and people, THE ALICE NETWORK alternates primarily between 1915 and 1947, telling the tales of two strong-minded women whose paths unexpectedly cross, and the ensuing action and events change them both for the better. But getting to the somewhat neat, somewhat happy ending is a long, harrowing journey because the great majority of events around which author Kate Quinn weaves her tale take place in German-occupied France during WWI and involve the despicable acts and unsavory characters war creates and condones. On the other hand, the events also encompass the remarkable goodness and bravery that those in unbearable circumstances often exhibit, so all is not entirely doom and gloom.

Quinn begins her story in 1947 with fictional Charlotte St. Clair, a rich, unwed American teenager who has a Little Problem—she's pregnant. She and her mother are traveling to Switzerland to an Appointment to have the Little Problem "taken care of." They make a stopover in England, and Charlie, as Charlotte likes to be called, makes a break for London to try to find a mysterious Eve Gardiner who might have information about Charlie's missing cousin Rose. It turns out that the fictional Eve Gardiner was part of the real Alice Network during WWI—a network primarily comprised of women spies who worked in occupied France and delivered amazingly accurate and vital information. In Eve's sections of the book, we live through all that being a spy in enemy-occupied territory entails, including what happens when your secret is discovered. But that story is woven in alternating sections with the present, and in the present of 1947, Charlie persuades the hard-drinking, cynical Eve to travel to France with her to try to find Rose. Eve's driver Finn joins them, and the three travelers stir up lots of memories and discover they have more in common than they'd like, including both the desire for and opportunity to exact revenge for some horrific acts.

THE ALICE NETWORK isn't exactly a whodunit, since most of the "who" is known all along, although the "dun" and "it" are revealed slowly. But don't let that be a deterrent. What is also revealed is a great deal of character and humanity. Quinn takes a chance opening the story with Charlie, because in the beginning, Charlie isn't very interesting and isn't even all that likeable. Eve, on the other hand, is fascinating, and Quinn has obviously done a great deal of research to get the details of Eve's life in France right. Quinn also does an amazing job with plotting and pacing, bringing the reader along nicely and encouraging all-night reads when the story really gets going. Part of that page-turning interest stems from the fact that Quinn also brings Charlie along nicely, having her grow and change as a character. Eve grows and changes, as well, both during the events of 1915 and during those of 1947, and both women—in both the past and present—find themselves caught up in situations where they must make hard, defining choices, and the interplay of action and character growth is definitely captivating. Additionally, placing fictional characters alongside real ones gives Quinn a lot of room to tell an engrossing tale while, at the same time, making some salient points about the plight of women and the effects of war without sounding moralizing, and the overall result is remarkably effective. Materials at the back of the book and an Author's Note give a few more details about the real "Alice" and the real women in her spy network, and knowing that those aspects of the novel are true gives the story greater depth and interest, although it's plenty riveting purely as a novel, with enough thrills, violence, and intrigue to keep any mystery enthusiast interested, especially if they enjoy well researched historical settings and intriguing characters.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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