The Paris Assignment
Lake Union Publishing
August 8th, 2023
The Paris Assignment by Rhys Bowen is a story of love and war, bitterness and brutality, bravery, and forgiveness. The setting moves from England to France to Australia.
The heroine Madeline Grant is sent to study overseas at the Sorbonne in Paris. There she meets charismatic French journalist Giles Martin. After the Christmas holiday, she defies her stepmother and returns to Paris to live with Giles. After finding out she is pregnant Giles eventually does the right thing and marries her even though his mother has cut him off from any financial assistance. When Oliver, their child is born, he sends Madeline and Oliver back to England to escape Nazi occupied France, while Giles remains in his homeland to join the Resistance. After the Nazi bombings of London starts Madeline puts Oliver on a train to find safety in the English countryside. Unfortunately, the Nazis bombed the train and Oliver is reported dead.
The harrowing adventure starts for both Oliver and Madeline. He is thought to be an orphan and is shipped off to Australia while she joins an elite English group of French speaking women who are trained as spies and sent to France. Both she and Oliver must endure abuse and torture. The redeeming quality is how Giles mother rescues Madeline and helps her to escape back to England. After the war Madeline is sent undercover to Australia to find and bring to justice the abusive Nazis. Readers will find her as a courageous mother and resistor who wants to honor her husband’s and son’s memory. She perseveres, is brave, defiant, and a risktaker.
This is an enthralling story of love, survival, sacrifice, and betrayals. Although a rather dark story there is a happy ending which leaves readers hopeful for the future.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Rhys Bowen: I have been very conscious of these women during WWII who risked their lives in the war effort with a survival rate of 25%. I thought what would make someone do it? These young girls of eighteen, where an incredibly diverse group who were incredibly brave. Then in 2019 we rented a house in Fontainebleau France and became aware of the history regarding the Nazi occupation. I went back last fall to fill in the little bits of details for the story.
EC: How would you describe Madeline?
RB: She grew from a naïve English girl to someone who became a fierce mother tiger. She was sheltered, practical, and honest. She feels lost because she is not welcome at home. Madeline is looking for love, adventure, and to belong. But as she matures, she has an inner strength.
EC: How about Giles?
RB: Readers see him through Madeline’s eyes. At first self-centered but he steps up to marry her when she is with child. He becomes very brave and honorable.
EC: How about the relationship between Madeline and Giles?
RB: At first, he sweeps her off her feet but then she becomes the complement to him. He is an idealist, believes in equality. They are perfect for each other when they meet. At the beginning readers see him as a bad playboy. As the relationship grows, they become each other’s true love. At the beginning he was self-centered and domineering as evidenced by the quote, ‘In France people marry for family expectations with a mistress for companionship.’ But after a few years he begins to rely on her strength and stability. The turning point is when he defied his family to marry her.
EC: How would you describe the child of Madeline and Giles, Oliver?
RB: Very smart, brave, very observing, and is not outgoing. While going to school in England, as with most young schoolboys, he was picked on because he sounded different and did not fit in. He is the typical only child that grows up around adults, learning to interact in an adult sort of way. He endured the hardships. People see him as a complex character. Because he changed badges with this other guy his bio says he came from the backstreets of London, yet he appears very well educated. It is war time, so he becomes a small casualty with no one double checking on the discrepancy.
EC: There is a difference between Madeline’s stepmom Eleanor and Giles mom?
RB: I was asked ‘why do I have in each of my books a cold, horrible woman?’ My own mother and grandmother were lovely. But I went to a strict girl’s schools where all the teachers were nasty and spiteful older women. Eleanor is self-centered, uncaring, and very cold. She did not marry for love and is jealous of the fact that the father loves Madeline but does not love her. The father is very much like Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, shuts himself up in the library.
Giles mother is caught up in the class system, coming from a very important family. She expected her son to behave as she wants. In the beginning her reputation is more important to her than the relationship with her son. But later in the book, after helping to rescue Madeline she confesses that she has gone to Paris to see them, but then still refused to be a part of the family. Giles mother is brave, proud, and spirited, whereas Eleanor never changes.
EC: What is true versus false?
RB: It has a lot of real stuff. The English were anti-French. Also true, every house built a shelter. I was like Oliver having a complete panic attack during the blitzkrieg. My husband told a story how he saw a senseless act of violence when a German pilot machine gunned a bunch of people at a bus stop, so it was not unheard of that they bombed an English civilian train.
Children were moved to Australia, a British colony. They volunteered to take British orphans and children of family members who wanted their own children to be safe. Regarding the Australian nuns I read these first-person accounts of children sent to these farms controlled by the nuns. They were spiteful and cruel. They sought out a way to make money. When the children get old enough, they got a finder’s fee from farmers which was like indentured servants.
EC: Next books?
RB: The book coming out this time next year has a working title, An Abandoned Place. It is about three little girls during WWII who were put on a train to be evacuated and were never seen again. Move forward to 1968 where a girl thinks she has been to a village now abandoned. The protagonist is a journalist who decides to investigate.
March 2024 will be the next Molly Murphy book I write with my daughter. It is titled In Sunshine or In Shadow. It takes place in the Catskills where the Jewish bungalows are.