The Alice Network unfolds along two timelines, one being 1915, the early years of the Great War and the other being post-WWII 1947. The 1915 story is based on real characters from WWI, a fact that I didn’t realize until I finished the book. I am a fan of historical fiction and this one did not disappoint. The unfolding of the lives of the women who were part of the real-life Alice spy network was fascinating. The patriotism that propelled them into this kind of dangerous work and the bravery they demonstrated day after day in their attempts to bring down the German war machine are hard to comprehend by someone who has never had their own existence challenged in such a way. I found myself wondering how I would have managed myself given the same circumstances.
One of the main characters in the 1947 segment is a 19-year-old girl from a wealthy New York family who has broken the chains of her parent’s bondage and has fled to France to solve the mystery of her cousin who went missing during WWII. She attempts to persuade Eve Gardiner, a war-weary former member of the 1915 Alice Network, to help her on her quest. Eve agrees to accompany Charlotte, ‘Charlie’, to France but not for the purpose that Charlie has envisaged. During their journey, the story of Eve’s experience as a spy unfolds and a thread of connection is drawn between the two women.
Eve, as a young woman of 22, is determined to do more with her life that work in the steno pool and when she is approached by Captain Cameron, who recruits candidates for the English spy network, she jumps at the chance to be part of the action. After a mere 2 weeks of training, she is sent to the field where she is met by Lili, the leader of the Alice Network, who trains her on what it really means to be a spy. Hired to be a waitress in a restaurant owned by Rene Bordelon, a narcissistic and exceedingly greedy man, she begins her spy work in a most intense and compelling manner.
Eve at 54 is war-weary and broken by her experiences 30 years in the past. Charlie is repelled by her officious and offensive attitude and behaviour but continues to pressure Eve to help her find her missing niece, Rose. That search takes them on a journey of self-discovery and the devastating unraveling of the past that threatens to do them both in.
It doesn’t hurt the story at all that a handsome Scot, Finn Kilgore, who happens to be Eve’s ‘minder and driver’, accompanies the pair on their journey. He is a supportive character but not a ‘rescuer’ of the women who are ‘rescuers’ in their own right.
This is a relatively easy read in spite of some content that at times can be most disconcerting.