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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Doubleheader- Two Great Books About Female Spies

I read not one, but two, fabulous novels about female spies recently- the seventh book in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal, The Paris Spy, and the newest pick in Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, Kate Quinn's The Alice Network.

You don't need to have read any of the previous books in the Maggie Hope series to enjoy her latest, The Paris Spy. (That being said, anyone who has read the series will find this exceptional.) Maggie Hope is working as a spy in WWII Paris for the SOE, Special Operatives Executive, under the direct orders of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

She is working with two other operatives, Sarah, posing as a ballerina, and Sarah's husband Hugh, posing as a musician, both with the Paris ballet. Maggie's cover as an Irish socialite shopping for her wedding trousseau in Paris brings her into contact with famous designer Coco Chanel, who plays an important role in this fascinating and heartpounding story.

Maggie is looking for her half-sister Elsie, hoping to bring her home to England, when she gets caught up as a female operative goes missing, along with important information that will help England decide where best to land in France as a final push to destroy the Nazis and win WWII.

MacNeal does an impressive job with her research into the use of female spies in WWII, used because it was felt that the Nazis would not suspect that women would be involved. (Indeed, it was an international violation to send women behind enemy lines during war.) She helpfully lists the books she used as research at the end of the book for anyone who wishes to learn more.

We also get a look into the British war effort, complete with warring factions in the espionage agencies and the mistakes that were made that endangered not only the operatives, but the war effort itself.

There is so much tension in The Paris Spy, I found myself gasping out loud more than once, and if this were a movie, I would peeking between my fingers at certain points. Maggie Hope is one of the most interesting characters in mystery series, and the crisis of conscious she is faced with at the end of the story is one that will propel the next entry in this most interesting and informative series. I give The Paris Spy my highest recommendation, and I read it in one sitting.

Kate Quinn's The Alice Network also deals with female spies, but is set in WWI and the aftermath of WWII. Young, pregnant and unmarried in 1947, Charlie is traveling with her mother to Switzerland to end her pregnancy. She makes a detour in London to search for her cousin who has been missing for three years in France.

Charlie finds Eve, a middle-aged woman, who is drunk, angry and has a gun. Charlie convinces Eve and Eve's Scottish driver/assistant Finn to help her find her cousin. Eve reluctantly helps, but she has an ulterior motive- she wants to find the man who tortured her during WWI and kill him.

The story shifts in time to WWI, where Eve is working as a spy in France with the Alice Network, run efficiently by Lili, a small woman of large talents. Eve works as a waitress in a restaurant frequented by Nazis, where she is able to gain information useful to the British government.

But getting this is information comes at a high price for Eve. She becomes involved with a French collaborator, and this relationship will haunt her for the rest of her life.

As with The Paris Spy, The Alice Network is a pulse-pounding read. Eve's mission is dangerous, and she and Lili risk their lives more than once. Also like The Paris Spy, The Alice Network is based on true events- there was an actual Alice Network, a spy ring run by women in France. The characters are brilliantly drawn, and although both stories are intriguing, Eve's story is truly astonishing. I can't get her out of my mind.

If you're looking for two amazing books about strong women, you like history, and your heart needs a good workout, check out The Alice Network and The Paris Spy now. 

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Penguin Random House ISBN 9780399593802
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
Susan Elia Macneal's website is here.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn- A+
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062654199
Trade paperback, $16.99, 528 pages
Kate Quinn's website is here.

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