The Lost Girls of Paris
Park Row Books, January 2019
A history of the world will be written one day with particular emphasis on the dangerous decade of the 1940s. A monstrous world war, the development of Atomic weapons and missile warfare, and a realignment of national priorities across the world. And there we began to see shifts in social structure.
In America, the public beginnings of greater gender equality became noticeable as women assumed a variety of jobs in manufacturing and other business traditionally held by men. Women pilots became a crucial link in getting replacement fighters and bombers to forward bases to continue the war effort. Rosie the Riveter became a recruitment poster. In England, women filled many roles heretofore reserved for men and that gradually included the world of spying and espionage, which brings us to this enthralling historical novel.
In 1940, British authorities established the Special Operations Executive, a clandestine agency designed to pass disinformation, arms, munitions and agents into occupied Europe. The novel focuses on the difficulties of incorporating a significant cadre of women agents, even though it was acknowledged that women moved around France more freely than could men. Eventually, due to persistence and grim determination, the head of F section was allowed to recruit and train a group of young talented women to operate in German-occupied Europe. This story tells the emotional and often tragic tales of the director of the unit, Eleanor Trigg, and several of the women agents.
The novel is a well-researched and very well written book. It is important, however, to recognize that this is a historical novel, based and well-rooted in reality, but is, in fact, fiction. Two agents who were flown to France in 1944 are the main characters and the story follows them from training through their adventures in tension-filled France and the post-war time.
The novel is saturated with the voices and unique perspectives of the women, including that of Grace Healey, a young woman living and working in Manhattan when the novel opens in 1946. Passing through Grand Central Station, she almost inadvertently acquires some pictures of former agents of the SOE. Notes intrigue her and she begins an odyssey to find and return the pictures to their rightful owners.
Now the scene shifts to London in 1943. Readers will discover that the structure of the novel shifts by chapter from place to place and from year to year. The structure is very well handled, the events are carefully and logically written to weave an emotional, tension-filled story fabric that will grasp and hold all but the most jaded readers through to the surprising and very well-conceived resolution. Just a fine, fine novel in all aspects.