The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II

Written by Madeline Martin
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Madeline Martin’s thrilling and suspenseful World War II novel tells the story of two courageous women. Ava, a rare book librarian at the Library of Congress, goes to work for the U.S. government in neutral Portugal. Using her language skills, she searches through French and German newspapers to gather information that would help the Allied cause. Ava wants to do something for the many refugees in Lisbon who are waiting for visas, but she attracts the attention of the secret police, as well as a Nazi posing as an Austrian refugee. In Lyon, France, Elaine, a member of the Resistance whose husband has been captured by the Nazis, operates a printing press and publishes a clandestine newspaper, all the while hoping to free her husband. A Jewish mother and son come to her for help, and she places a coded message in her newspaper. Ava and her colleagues decipher the message and bring the pair to Lisbon. But, even in Lisbon, they are not out of danger. Will Ava be able to get them safely to America?

This is a wonderful novel with two sympathetic heroines. Martin skillfully alternates the point of view between Ava and Elaine. As a librarian, I identified more with Ava, and I wished I had her job at the Library of Congress, but Elaine is a very strong heroine as well. The horrors she goes through in Lyon, with her friends and colleagues being captured and tortured by the Nazis, make for powerful and unforgettable reading. Elaine is never sure who can be trusted, as collaborators infiltrate the Resistance cells and report people to the Nazis. I loved the setting in Lisbon, and Martin’s descriptions of the buildings, the streets, and, especially, the food, made me want to go there. I highly recommend this book.