Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (January 29, 2019)
From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female secret agents during World War II.
One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.
New York, 1946
If not for the second worst mistake of Grace Healey’s life, she never would have found the suitcase.
At nine twenty on a Tuesday morning, Grace should have been headed south on the first of two buses she took to get downtown, commuting from the rooming house in Hell’s Kitchen to the Lower East Side office where she worked. And she was on her way to work. But she was nowhere near the neighborhood she had come to call home. Instead, she was racing south on Madison Avenue, corralling her corkscrew hair into a low knot and taking off her mint green cardigan despite the chill so that Frankie wouldn’t notice it was the exact same one she had been wearing at work the previous day and question the unthinkable: whether she had gone home at all.
Grace paused to study herself in the window of a five-and-dime. She wished the store was open so she could buy some powder to hide the marks on her neck and sample a bit of perfume to conceal the stench of day-old brandy mixed with that delicious-but-wrong smell of Mark’s aftershave which made her dizzy and ashamed with every inhale. A wino sat on the corner, moaning to himself in sleep. Looking at his gray, lifeless pallor, Grace felt a certain solidarity. From the adjacent alley came the banging on a trash can, a sound marching in time with the thudding in her own head. The whole city of New York seemed green and hungover. Or perhaps she was confusing it for herself.
Sharp gusts of February wind cut across Madison, causing the flags that hung from the skyscrapers above to whip furiously. An old crumpled newspaper danced along the gutter. Hearing the bells of Saint Agnes’s toll half past nine, Grace pressed on, her skin growing moist under her collar as she neared a run. Grand Central Terminal loomed hulking ahead. Just a bit farther and she could turn left on Forty-Second Street and catch an express bus downtown on Lexington.
But as she neared the intersection at Forty-Third, the street ahead was blocked. Police cars sat three across, cordoning off Madison and preventing anyone from going farther south. A car accident, Grace suspected at first, noting the black Studebaker, which sat jackknifed across the street, steam billowing from the hood. More cars clogged the Midtown streets than ever these days, jockeying for space with the buses and taxis and trucks making deliveries. There did not appear to be another vehicle involved, though. A lone ambulance sat at the corner. The medics did not rush about urgently, but stood leaning against the vehicle, smoking.
Grace started toward a policeman, whose paunchy face pushed up from the high collar of his uniform, navy with gold buttons. “Excuse me. Will the street be closed for long? I’m late for work.”
He looked out at her disdainfully from under the brim of his hat, as if despite all of the women working dutifully in the factories to take the place of the men who had enlisted and gone overseas during the war, the notion of a woman holding a job was still laughable. “You can’t go this way,” he replied officiously. “And you won’t be able to any time soon.”
“What happened?” she asked, but the policeman turned away. Grace took a step forward, craning to see.
“A woman was hit by a car and died,” a man in a flat wool cap beside her said.
Taking in the shattered windshield of the Studebaker, Grace suddenly felt sick. “Such a shame,” she managed finally.
“I didn’t see it,” the man replied. “But someone said she was killed instantly. At least she didn’t suffer.”
At least. That was the phrase Grace heard too often after Tom had died. At least she was still young. At least there had not been children—as if that made it somehow easier to bear. (Children, she sometimes thought, would not have been a burden, but a bit of him left behind forever.)
“You just never know where it will all end,” mused the flat-capped man beside her. Grace did not answer. Tom’s death had been unexpected, too, an overturned jeep on the way from the army base to the train station in Georgia, headed to New York to see her before he’d deployed. They called him a casualty of war, but in fact it had been just another accident that might have happened anywhere.
A flashbulb from a reporter’s camera popped, causing her to blink. Grace shielded her eyes then backed away blindly through the crowd that had formed, seeking air amidst the cigarette smoke and sweat and perfume.
Away from the police barricade now, Grace looked over her shoulder. Forty-Third Street was blocked to the west as well, preventing her from cutting across. To go back up Madison and around the other side of the station would take at least another half an hour, making her even later for work than she already was. Again, she cursed the night before. If it weren’t for Mark, she wouldn’t be standing here, faced with no other choice to cut through Grand Central—the one place she had sworn to never go again.
Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.