Librarians and Espionage

by Alan Hlad

Did you know that librarians served as spies? I must admit, I knew little—prior to conducting research for The Book Spy—about the valor of the men and women librarians who served in the war. In 1942, President Roosevelt established a special branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that was comprised of librarians and microfilm specialists. They were deployed to neutral European cities where they posed as American officials collecting materials for the Library of Congress. The agents—using local currency and bartering with American magazines like Time and Life—acquired Axis newspapers, books, and periodicals for the purposes of gathering intelligence on enemy troop locations, weaponry, and military plans.

The story is set in neutral Lisbon, Portugal—the last gate out of Europe for Jewish refugees. Most of the refugees had exhausted their life savings to reach Lisbon, and they had little choice but to rely on charity or support from Portuguese authorities. The American consulate was overwhelmed, and it often took many months for refugees to gather the correct stamps in passports and find a way to pay for ship passage to the United States. During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees escaped Europe through the port of Lisbon. It is my hope that this story will pay tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution.

The Book Spy is the intersecting stories of Maria—an American librarian turned spy—and Tiago—a Portuguese bookstore owner who provides Jewish refugees with forged passports and visas. Their journeys will transport readers to the hive of spying in Lisbon, and the struggles of asylum seekers fleeing Europe. But most of all, their stories will show us the lengths we will go to save the ones we love.   

Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn, Marie Benedict, and Pam Jenoff and inspired by true stories of the heroic librarian spies of WWII, the new book from the internationally bestselling author of Churchill’s Secret Messenger transports readers from the New York Public Library to Portugal’s city of espionage in a thrilling, riveting tale.

An American librarian. A Portuguese bookseller. A mission to change the tide of the war.

1942: With the war’s outcome hanging in the balance, President Roosevelt sends an unlikely new taskforce on a unique mission. They are librarians and microfilm specialists trained in espionage, working with a special branch of the Office of Strategic Services and deployed to neutral cities throughout Europe. By acquiring and scouring Axis newspapers, books, technical manuals, and periodicals, the librarians can gather information about troop location, weaponry, and military plans.

Maria Alves, a microfilm expert working at the New York Public Library, is dispatched to Lisbon, where she meticulously photographs publications and sends the film to London to be analyzed. Working in tandem with Tiago Soares, a Portuguese bookstore owner on a precarious mission of his own—providing Jewish refugees with forged passports and visas—Maria acquires vital information, including a directory of arms factories in Germany.

But as she and Tiago grow closer, any future together is jeopardized when Maria’s superiors ask her to pose as a double agent, feeding misinformation to Lars Steiger, a wealthy Swiss banker and Nazi sympathizer who launders Hitler’s gold. Gaining Lars’ trust will bring Maria into the very heart of the Fuhrer’s inner circle. And it will provide her with a chance to help steer the course of war, if she is willing to take risks as great as the possible rewards . . .