Ready for a thrilling trip into the heart of Europe during WWII to see, vicariously, how two daring women best the Nazis in the name of freedom and justice? “The Paris Apartment” by Kelly Bowen will grip you from the first page, the first sentence, even. “The woman was nude.” Pretty gripping, right? It’s actually a painting that is in the titular Paris apartment that Lia Leclaire inherits from her grandmother. What we learn immediately is that Lia is confused. As far as she knew, Estelle Allard, her grandmother, had never lived in Paris, but rather spent her whole life in Marseille. But here is a Paris apartment, untouched for almost 75 years, filled with exquisite furniture, couture clothing, and paintings by the masters. Who was her grandmother and why was this secret?
As the story unfolds, we meet other main characters, and the story is carefully told in third person narrative from the points of view of Sophie, who is newly married to a romantic Polish officer named Piotr; Estelle, the aforementioned Lia’s grandmother; Lia herself; and Gabriel Seymour, an art restorer and researcher. We know that their lives are connected, but we don’t know how. It’s the mystery of the “how” that keeps us reading and reading to find out how Bowen puts it all together.
With Bowen’s masterful writing, we feel transported to Paris at a time when the Nazis were royalty there. But we also see how there were certainly those who served them while hating them; did their best to put roadblocks in their way. We see Jews, wealthy educated Parisians, taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps, leaving behind wealth that was plundered by the Germans. And we see those who were complicit and benefited from the misfortune of others as well as those who did whatever they could to help the targets of Nazi evil.
While Lia and Gabriel try to solve the mystery of the apartment and the artwork, which Lia fears was the result of her grandmother being a Nazi collaborator, we also hear from Sophie and Estelle and what their lives were like during the war. We learn about the bravery of both women and the sacrifices they each made to defeat the Nazis.
In this story, the women are strong and powerful and brave. They are daring and determined to do the right thing, no matter the cost. And Bowen tells the story in a manner that is not only touching, but heartbreaking and beautiful. This is certainly a novel that celebrates the contributions of women spies and women during war. It celebrates the inner strength of women who will not rest until injustice is righted. And it celebrates the intelligence of strong women who are quick to use men’s prejudice, or men’s deprecating ideas about the “weaker sex,” against them.
If you love historical fiction, and you love a thrilling story that has it all — action, danger, amazing characters, war, espionage, romance, and sacrifice, look no further. This novel will stay with you as you go over the events and the outcome long after you’ve read the Author’s Note.
Please note: This review is based on the final book provided by Grand Central Publishing for review purposes.