The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Genoff
This is a book about WWII which begins its narration after the war, in 1946, in Manhattan, when a woman, Grace, finds a mysterious suitcase in Grand Central Station stuffed with pictures of women. Grace makes it her mission to discover who these women are.
The women photographed are the foundation of the novel, a ring of female spies sent into Occupied Europe in order to sabotage infrastructure and send back information to England. So, basically everything I could love in a book. Unfortunately, I did not find myself being able to fully immerse myself in the book and would not say this is my favourite book about female spies. Or even about female spies in WWII sent undercover into Occupied Europe. For that, you truly must read Code Name Verity (review coming soon!).
A part of my reluctance towards Lost Girls is once again I found myself not loving a story being told as a "mystery" that someone else must delve into. Perhaps it's because I've read a few books lately in this vein, where some or all of the narration is not directly in the action of the events, and I find it doesn't add anything to the book. Grace is a vapid character in comparison to the female spies she's learning about, and her tale of romance and mystery doesn't add anything to the actual main story. In fact, her romantic plights are almost offensive as it is like a checkbox is being ticked by the editor or something (romance done!). And the romance itself, regardless of her being a widow, is boring because it takes away from the actual awesomeness that is the very exciting story, inspired by true events, of a RING OF FEMALE SPIES!
Now I will always be upfront about how much I LOVE historical female spy novels (see: Lilac Girls, The Alice Network, and also the above-named Code Name Verity.) These books are always going to be my jam. So why do you have to throw in another character to tell this story?
Let's start with Eleanor Trigg, the leader of the female spies who were sent into Occupied Europe as radio operators, but who also became important mission operators when they were on the ground. It was Trigg who would recruit, train, and send out these women. From the very beginning, she struggled with the powers that be to be taken seriously. Women, as spies or spymasters, were not wholly trusted and certainly not considered important. And yet, Trigg is a badass. You know she would have been on the ground in a heartbeat, taking out Nazis with whatever weapon happened to be nearby, if only she had been given a chance. I enjoyed her overt strength, as well as her subtle sensitivity, as she took her responsibility over the girls very seriously, knowing she could be sending them to their death.
I also like how the recruitment process showed the women's comraderie, especially between Josie and Marie, how they built each other up instead of taking each other down. And I loved Marie's struggle between her love for her country and her love for her child, and how for her one ends up strengthening the other.
The absolute best part of the book is when the women are in Occupied France. I would have happily spent the whole book here, because this is the meat of it: daring adventures and midnight flights on moonless nights; coded messages and message drops; daring missions and starcrossed lovers. This is the kind of spy novel I want to read. It is true that Marie makes some inexplicable choices, fine, but I am willing to overlook it when it comes to all the other great stuff. This is where I want to be.
All in all The Lost Girls of Paris was enjoyable but forgettable, as I wasn't able to really feel like I connected with the book by the end of it.