Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire is the first in a new series of books featuring a cake-baking super-sleuth. Subtitled A Recipe for Trouble, young Alice is not only a great code-breaker, she’s also one of the finest pastry chefs in Paris. When her uncle, a French secret agent, sends her on a mission, Alice must board France’s most prestigious train. She poses as a baker in order to discover the identity of a rival spy and steal back some missing papers. With war looming, the country’s security is at stake!
What Is Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire?
Much like MG Leonard’s and Sam Sedgeman’s Adventures on Trains series, which we absolutely love in our house, Alice Éclair features a child detective and an impressive locomotive (the fictional “Sapphire Express). It also has the added bonus of some gorgeous cake descriptions! Alice Eclair is aimed at slightly younger readers than Adventures on Trains; children from around seven and upwards should be able to enjoy its highly readable prose.
A Recipe for Trouble also touches more on real-world events than Adventures on Trains. The exact timing of the novel is unclear (unlike AoT which are contemporary stories). High teas on steam trains are, of course, still a thing in modern times, making the novel’s time-setting nebulous. It’s only as the plot reveals itself, that the time the action is set becomes clear. Whilst there is a strong suggestion that these events occur just before the Second World War, the time stamp is vague enough that the story could be taking place in a fictional Europe; one in turmoil at an unspecified point in time.
This loose assigning of setting allows us to imagine the plight of refugees from any time. A mirroring perhaps of another excellent Nosy Crow title, Running out of Time. When we live in a world where the UK has a Home Secretary who “dreams” of packing off asylum seekers to Africa, the framing of the novel and the importance of compassion towards refugees could not be more important.
Why Read Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire?
Politics aside, there’s a great plot in this book too. Alice spends much of her time in the kitchen but must find excuses to visit the passenger lounge and cabins. It’s then classic Agatha Christie. Which of the diverse range of passengers is the treacherous spy Alice’s Uncle has sent her to find? When Alice has worked this out, can she recover the missing papers without revealing herself as a spy who spies on spies?!
Sarah Todd Taylor’s prose rips along, and I loved the book, even though I’m far too old for it. It’s a classic caper, with some great set pieces and bluffs and double bluffs. A second book is promised (A Spoonful of Spying) and I can’t wait to check it out.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire you can do so here, in the US, and here, in the UK.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.