A true-life thriller centers around a defiant woman who spied for Britain.
Loftis (Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov: World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real Life Inspiration for James Bond, 2016) recounts the story of Odette Sansom (1912-1995), a Frenchwoman living in England, wife of an Englishman and mother of 3 daughters, who was recruited into Britain’s Special Operations Executive program to conduct espionage in France during World War II. Drawing on interviews, oral histories, and memoirs of key players (including Odette’s commander, lover, and eventually second husband, Peter Churchill), Loftis creates a tense narrative filled with verbatim conversations among more than 30 main characters. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and though the prose is peppered with clichés—Peter and Odette were drawn to each other “like magnets”; they were “at the bridge of the river of love”; when the Gestapo added Peter’s name to their blacklist, “it seemed only a matter of time that lady luck would succumb to the odds”—the author creates a readable page-turner about Odette’s dangerous missions. Although at first reluctant to join the SOE, Odette desperately wanted to help the war effort. Leaving her daughters in a convent school and with relatives, she joined the rigorous training program, becoming proficient with a wide range of weapons, learning the fine points of spycraft—such as distinguishing the uniforms and ranks of Vichy, Axis, Gestapo, SS, and Luftwaffe soldiers—and perfecting her new identity with the code name Lise. Once under Peter’s command in France, she proved herself fearless. Hunted by the Germans, in 1943, Odette and Peter were captured, imprisoned, and tortured. Loftis describes Odette’s ordeal in grisly detail, and she spent months certain that she was about to be executed. But two lies saved her: She pretended that she and Peter were married (they would be after the war) and that Peter was related to Winston Churchill. After their defeat, the Gestapo hoped to use her as a bargaining chip.
A vivid history of wartime heroism.