This is part of my 2017 reading challenge, Cloak and Dagger, for which I’ve pledged to read all the spy books I have stacked up in my room. Read along!
A pull quote from the New York Post on the back cover of Avenue of Spies hails it as “a true story that reads like a thriller.” I don’t quite agree with that, but it’s certainly one hell of a story.
On Friday, June 14, 1940, the Nazis moved into and occupied Paris. It wasn’t long before the tricolor flag of their republic was quickly replaced with the red, white, and black swastika of the Third Reich, signaling five years of agony for those French citizens who refused to collaborate with their enemies.
But Avenue of Spies opens years earlier, when an American doctor named Sumner Jackson served in the bloody field hospitals of World War I. It was there that he met a young Swiss nurse, Toquette, who would become his wife and mother of their only son, Phillip. The trio lived in a swanky apartment on the Avenue Foch in Paris, arguably one of the most exclusive addresses in the city, if not the world, at that time.
When the Nazis arrived in 1940, many of their highest ranking intelligence officials took over the many newly abandoned mansions along Avenue Foch as their new headquarters. This led Parisians to nickname the road “Avenue Boche.”
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the Jacksons, fiercely patriotic, deeply loyal to their adopted home country, and living mere yards from their most horrendous enemies, soon became an important stop along the French Resistance’s chain of information. (And it surprised me that — spoiler — the family wasn’t arrested much sooner for their escapades.)
It isn’t quite a “thriller,” but I thoroughly enjoyed the knowledge I pulled out of Avenue of Spies. I’m fascinated by the World War II period, and especially what life must have been like under Nazi occupation in France, and this book provides many details about every day life during that time. I was interested in the often tragic story of the Jacksons, but there are also only so many times one can write about how brave one family is. The Jacksons took extraordinary risks, with awful consequences, but what I really took from this book was a list of new favorite spies: Violette Szabo, a French-born British woman who sounds like a complete badass, and a man known only as “Tom,” a bisexual clandestine operative who seduced Nazis and then murdered them in their sleep.
This was a quick but detailed read, a great way to kick off this year’s reading challenge. Vive la France!
Cloak & Dagger 2017 Book Count: 1
Next Up: Argo by Tony Mendez (I have to)
Are you reading any good spy books this week? Do you like spies? Are you a spy? Comment below!