Secrets and Showgirls by Catherine McCullagh

Posted October 20, 2021 by elzaread in Book Review / 4 Comments

Secrets and Showgirls by Catherine McCullaghSecrets and Showgirls by Catherine McCullagh
Published by Big Sky Publishing on February 3rd 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 360
Format: ARC
Source: The History Quill Book Club
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Le Prix d’Amour, a vibrant Paris cabaret, is caught in the crossfire of the occupation. Everyone is being watched, and some of Le Prix’s colourful performers are hiding dangerous secrets. Monsieur Maurice manages Le Prix d’Amour, a successful Parisian cabaret, which boasts glitzy performers and sassy showgirls. But with the German occupation in June 1940, Maurice treads a fine line between his German patrons, the French police and the Gestapo as he hides the dark secrets of his performers. Two of his lively showgirls, Lily and Poppy, soon join Maurice in the hunt for an informer who threatens to betray them. With the Allied landings, the tension builds and Maurice is pushed to his limits as his performers finally take the fight to the invader in their own flamboyant way.

Secrets and Showgirls portrays an occupied Paris in which exotic cabarets existed uneasily under the heel of the invader. It follows the antics of Maurice, Lily and a glittering array of characters, but never loses sight of the battle to survive that characterised the life of the everyday Parisian.

I received a free copy of this book via The History Quill Book Club. This does not affect my opinion of the book, or the content of my review.

“What good is sitting alone in your room? (Especially when everyone else is gone or dead) – Come, hear the music play (it’s better than listening to the sounds of warfare out there). Life is a Cabaret old chum, come to the Cabaret!”

Ladies and Gentleman – Welcome to the glitz and the glam, the high kicks and splits, the flowing champagne and soothing cognac of Occupied Paris!

Historical Fiction and especially WWII, has always been a huge favorite of mine. I’ve grown up with a High School History teacher for an Aunt and know my history fairly well. Through years of study and reading, I have never lost sight of the seriousness of the world at war between 1939 – 1945. Nor will I ever. What a delight to come across a book that doesn’t shy away from showing the lighter side and sometimes the laugh out loud hilarity of events that most likely, truly happened in Occupied France. With reminiscence to the 80’s British sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo, this book brings a new, tongue in the cheek perspective to the events of WWII.

To pay homage to one of my favorite sitcoms in TV history, I will start my review with the following line:

The story opens with a young dancer joining the prestigious, well-patronized  Cabaret of Le Prix d’Amour just as the rumors of war start spreading like the frills on the cabaret dancers’ skirts.  The leggy, but something up her sleeve Lily, quickly makes friends with the dazzling, colorful cast and management of Le Prix d’Amour. By colorful, I mean Creola colors here: A rich, chocolaty Coco; a ginger candy floss Maurice; a cerulean blue Madame Claudette; a vibrant red Poppy and a cerise pink Crecy – to name but a few.

The air of mystique was deepened by the fact that most of the dancers and artistes who populated its interior, were less than forthcoming on the fascinating subject of their previous lives and reasons for joining the company. More’s the point, no-one asked; they co-existed in the happily unstated knowledge that their past was a Pandora’s box that might never be opened. Each inhabited a personal glass house in a little world where no-one threw stones.

As the saying goes – “There’s no business like show business” The world outside can fall to pieces, but inside – the show must go on. It’s quite clear from early in our story, that our colorful cast will not have the luxury of a grey blanket to hide under or escape from and they will have to face the music, the Germans, the hunger, the cold and the loss of loved ones from inside the walls of Le Prix d’Amour. They do this with passion and vigor and the Cabaret quickly becomes the favorite of the German Governor. This of course comes with barrels of pros and truckloads of constraband . Even at Le Prix, loyalty was bought and sold alongside champagne, cognac and other less quantifiable delights. 

I suspect that there might be a couple of readers out there who would have liked a stronger storyline with the definite outlines of a beginning, a middle and an end. But we know the story of Occupied France and especially Paris. I don’t believe that the aim of Secrets and Showgirls was to be a history lesson, although there is more than enough of that too. To me, this was a story of a group of survivors who never forgot to live. Not an easy task to accomplish in high heels and false eye-lashes.

I thank St Vitus, the patron saint of dancers and performers, for the blessing of this book and for all the funny anecdotes and unique cast of characters who I have to wonder what happened to after the liberation. Viva la France! 

Secrets and Showgirls is a fairly easy read and the author created an engaging and colorful chain of events during one of the darkest periods in human history. I would love to see an adaptation of this book as the characters and the setting were portrayed so vividly in my mind. A comfortable 4 stars from us!

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4 responses to “Secrets and Showgirls by Catherine McCullagh