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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
L’Agent Double: Spies and Martyrs in the Great War by Kit Sergeant takes us deep inside the lives of three young women from very different backgrounds during the First World War, some unknown and one particularly infamous, as they ply their secretive trade, each with their own motivations and each with their own unique circumstances. Marthe, a Belgian nursing student, finds herself caught up in the invasion of her beloved country by the advancing German armies. Forced to use her nursing training to help wounded soldiers, be they Allies or the accursed Germans, she determines to do whatever she can to assist the burgeoning Belgian underground to undermine the advances of the seemingly invincible German army. Allouette, a rare breed, a woman aviatrix, is disgusted when she is not allowed to fly for her beloved France against the German forces. Determined to help, she volunteers to be a spy for France against the Germans and communicate their secrets from their operational base in neutral Spain. The famous (or infamous) Dutch courtesan and dancer, Mata Hari, just wants life to continue to be the succession of luxury and wealthy gentlemen admirers that it has always been. Angry at her treatment by the Germans at the outbreak of the war, she turns to the French and her succession of lovers to provide her with the luxury she has always been accustomed to, even if that means spying for them to achieve her goals.
L'Agent Double fulfills both of the characteristics that I look for in historical fiction. First, it has a solid grounding in fact and second, it is exciting and captivating. This story fulfills both those requirements well. By creating three main characters, the author has set a difficult task but one that is handled well. Short, punchy chapters, each one focusing on one character, keep the reader interested and reading. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the three women, although entirely different in their upbringings, their relationships, their outlooks on life, and their motivations for becoming involved in the dark and seedy world of spying, were all strong, forceful, and talented women at a time when such characteristics were neither prized nor encouraged amongst young women. In a time when communications were so basic, it is amazing that often these women were left to make decisions and take initiatives without direction from those who sat in their ivory towers controlling them. Kit Sergeant does a tremendous job of championing the three women and at the same time shaming and exposing the weaknesses and in some cases duplicity of their handlers and controllers. This is an excellent and easy read, especially for those that find strong female leads in historical fiction compelling. I can highly recommend this book.