The Paris Secret

Written by Natasha Lester
Review by Gail M. Murray

Lester’s passion for fashion drew her to Catherine Dior, fashion icon Christian Dior’s sister, a little-known heroine of the French Resistance. Lester weaves manifold themes: love, men and women’s roles in WWII, daring female pilots, post-war fashion, friendship, and survival. She deftly intersperses historical characters with richly developed fictional ones over multiple timelines.

Lester’s prologue opens with Dior’s 1947 glamorous debut: Margaux Jourdan modelling his New Look subtly foreshadows the horrors and heartache to come. We jump to 1928 and idyllic Cornwall, England. It’s a slow burn, like a Dickens novel that explodes into a suspenseful, character-driven, can’t-put-down read.

In Cornwall, we meet free-spirited ten-year-old Skye Penrose and eleven-year-old American Nicholas Crawford. Though level-headed, Skye entices him to explore coves, tide pools, and moors and engage in flying lessons in canvas biplanes. After adventurous Skye cartwheels into his life, they become inseparable for four years. Younger sister Liberty sulks, punches, and kicks. Despite her tantrums, Skye takes care of her until adulthood, when they become estranged. Skye, recruited by Pauline Gower for the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), flies planes (from Spitfires to Lancasters) from factories to RAF bases, facing prejudice, chauvinism and constant danger. She reconnects with Nicholas, now an RAF pilot.

Fast-forward to 2012: Kat Jourdan, fashion conservator, discovers Dior gowns in her grandmother’s Cornwall cottage. You can view these gowns on Lester’s website. Historian and author Elliot Beaufort contacts Kat. The reader joins in their search for the real Margaux Jourdan – a spy for the Special Operations Executive. This mystery, along with two passionate love stories and a horrendous imprisonment in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, keeps the reader riveted. As seemingly unlinked stories come together, Lester pays tribute to the brave souls of the resistance and the triumph of the human spirit.