Book Review for “The Secret Stealers” by Jane Healey.
Summary: “Anna Cavanaugh is a restless young widow and brilliant French teacher at an all-girls school in Washington, DC. Everything changes when she’s recruited into the Office of Strategic Services by family friend and legendary WWI hero Major General William Donovan. Donovan has faith in her—and in all his “glorious amateurs” who are becoming Anna’s fast friends: Maggie, Anna’s down-to-earth mentor; Irene, who’s struggling to find support from her husband for her clandestine life; and Julia, a cheerful OSS liaison. But the more Anna learns about the organization’s secret missions, the more she longs to be stationed abroad. Then comes the opportunity: go undercover as a spy in the French Resistance to help steal critical intelligence that could ultimately turn the tide of the war. Dispatched behind enemy lines and in constant danger, Anna is filled with adrenaline, passion, and fear. She’s driven to make a difference—for her country and for herself. Whatever the risk, she’s willing to take it to help liberate France from the shadows of occupation and to free herself from the shadows of her former life.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, WWII, USA, England, France; Other Categories: Biographical, Novel.
I know what you’re thinking – yet another WWII spy story. And yes, it does feel like I’ve been reading quite a lot of these lately. In fact, if this hadn’t been by Healey, I’m not sure if I would have asked for the ARC of this novel. I mean, how can you top something like Code Name Helene, which was one of my favorites of 2020? But the beauty of novels and different authors is that they always seem to find a slightly new angle for their stories. Healey went with an American woman who gets involved with the OSS as an assistant (actually glorified secretary) but due to her language skills and natural talents, ends up being upgraded to working in Nazi occupied Paris, sending intel back to the US and London, and getting involved in other dangerous missions. While Anna is a fully fictional character, she’s surrounded by both real (Donovan) and thinly veiled representations of some of these true heroes.
I will admit straight away that this book didn’t engage me quite as immediately as Healey’s previous novel, “Beantown Girls.” In that book, I was absorbed from the very beginning, and with this book, it took some time before I felt connection to Anna and her various companions. This is probably because in Beantown, the trio were central to the whole book, while here Anna was the primary protagonist, with different sets of lesser characters around her at different stages of her work. This made me wonder if it is easier to build a truly empathetic character when you have constant relationships surrounding them to help fill out the story. That’s one possibility. Another possibility is that Healey wrote Anna using a singular, first-person voice, which means we have less of a chance to see her through others’ eyes, and thereby get a more well-rounded character.
Thankfully, the further I got into the novel and Anna’s story, the more involved I became with her and her motivations. Here too, as with Beantown, there are romances surrounding these characters, and Anna gets more than her fair share! First, she is a widow, although her marriage was both short-lived and not a terribly happy one. Then there’s Henri, the man she met in France when studying abroad, but leaves to get married to her fiancé back home. She ends up finding him again in when she returns to work with the Resistance. Finally, there’s Phillip, the man she meets while in training to work with the OSS. Obviously, there’s some conflict there, and while we have our theories regarding who she’ll end up with, we can sense in advance that there will be tragedy for her to deal with. How Healey deals with this is very interesting, and helps us appreciate Anna all the more. I was actually looking forward to that enviable scene that would have me tearing up, but for some reason, while I was saddened by the event, it didn’t get me reaching for the tissues, I’m afraid.
Now, that doesn’t mean this book isn’t good, because it really is. Healey has a whole lot going on here with Anna, and we truly grow to like her very much. However, I’m afraid I didn’t fall in love with her, despite her wonderful moxie and spunk. This could be because it took me a while to really get involved in her story, but I have to admit that Healey picked up the pace near the end so much that I was afraid that maybe my copy might have been missing chapters, since I was sure she’d give me more. On the other hand, leaving us wanting more and wondering what will happen after the last page is something I do welcome in a novel, so that’s in its favor. So, while I think I still prefer her Beantown Girls to this novel, I can still recommend this book and give it a very healthy four out of five stars.
Lake Union Publishing released “The Secret Stealers” by Jane Healey on April 1, 2021 (no joke). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.