Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Librarian Spy depicts two brave women finding their purpose during WWII

Like her first mainstream historical novel, Madeline Martin’s The Librarian Spy (a title designed to catch attention) is set during WWII. While continuing with her theme of the power of the written word, she moves her locale from London to Lisbon and Lyon, France, in her portrait of two women battling Nazi oppression, as well as the invisible thread that connects them.

In 1943, Ava Harper, though content in her plum job as a rare book librarian at the Library of Congress, finds herself recruited into a higher purpose due to her work ethic and facility with languages. In Lisbon, in neutral Portugal, she becomes responsible for acquiring and microfilming international news sources for shipment back home. As a librarian, it was cool to read a novel in which microfilm (which is becoming an outdated technology) was in such high demand!

While eager to help the Allies, Ava’s used to a more sedate lifestyle and is somewhat unworldly. She gets nervous when her neighbor is arrested and dragged away in the middle of the night; did a careless statement of hers get him in trouble?

One day, while browsing one of the papers she obtains, Ava notices an apparent encoded message that turns out to be a cry for assistance, though few details are given. This note forms the link between Ava and Elaine Rousseau – not her birth name – a Frenchwoman living under the Vichy regime in Lyon who joins the resistance. Through Elaine’s story, which is the more suspenseful of the two, readers view the courage and altruism that drives Elaine and her fellow resistance members to risk their lives. Secrets are prevalent, even amongst couples and families, and the deep love between Elaine and her husband Joseph, who has gone missing, is sensitively revealed.

There are many new novels focusing on resistance activities during WWII, and on this topic, The Librarian Spy didn’t stand out from the pack for me. That said, I appreciated the angle on covert publishing and information transmission during the war and the focus on day-to-day life in the less familiar setting of wartime Lisbon.

I read this from a NetGalley copy. The Librarian Spy was published last month by Hanover Square/HarperCollins.


  1. Thanks for this this review. I was iffy about reading The Librarian Spy, and probably will at some point, but it won't be top on my list. Too bad - even though I'm a teacher not a librarian, I like the librarian angles on so many recent WWII novels.

  2. I really like the angle as well. Maybe if I hadn't previously read others first, this would have stood out for me more. I loved the author's previous book.

  3. This seems to be a new sub-sub genre of the "librarian in WW1/2" subgenre. Alan Hlad's March 2023 title is THE BOOK SPY

  4. They're going to run out of original titles for these sooner or later!