Writing: 4 Plot: 4 Characters: 4
A powerful, woman-centric story encompassing two world wars. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair is a pregnant Yankee 19-year-old under escort to Switzerland via Southampton to take care of her “Little Problem”. She has a different priority: she holds out hope that her cousin Rose, last heard from 3 years ago in France, is still alive. She manages a secret detour to London to engage the help of the last person who worked the case – Evelyn Gardiner. Finding Evelyn a cantankerous woman with horribly disfigured hands, she nevertheless manages to engage her help in a search for Rose.
In alternating chapters we hear Evelyn’s story. In 1915, Evelyn (Eve) is a young, stammering, girl from Lorraine who is fluent in French, German, and English. Desperate to “fight” yet stuck in a dull, filing job, she is recruited for work in the highly successful Alice Network – a WWI spy network run by Alice Dubois in France. Alice Dubois was one of the many pseudonyms of Louise de Bettignies and this portion of the story is historically accurate.
The interlacing of the two timelines is one of the best examples of parallel narratives I’ve seen. There is just the right amount of interplay between the two – one will introduce an event just as the other requires it, or one will raise a question that is answered in the other – all with a subtlety that makes me admire the craft. The story had several parts that were highly disturbing – to the point that I had to skim – and knowing that they were coming (we learn about Evelyn’s disfigured hands within the first two chapters – we’re obviously going to hear something unpleasant about how that happened) filled me with dread. I really only had to skim twice so there is plenty of story that is not disturbing for those of us with faint hearts when it comes to torture and deprivation.
Finn Kilgore, a 30-year-old Scottish ex-con, star mechanic, and Evelyn Gardiner’s all around dogs body, serves as a love interest for Charlie, as well as providing another perspective on WWI experiences, while the experiences of Charlie’s brother James provide a parallel story from WWII.
Great for fans of historical fiction and a nice focus on the women who served in largely unrecognized and often unappreciated, highly dangerous, roles in these world encompassing conflicts.