Friday, June 7, 2019

Code Name: Lise The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII Most Highly Decorated Spy By Larry Loftis

Code Name: Lise The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII Most Highly Decorated Spy 

By Larry Loftis 

“Gentlemen you must take your pick of the counts. I can only die once.”
Odette Sansom to Nazi Court, page 173

Larry Loftis is an American author. He attended the University of Florida where he graduated with a BA in Political Science and a JD in Law. He served as a senior executive and articles editor on Florida's Law Review, a student-edited journal that operates out of the University of Florida. He also published legal articles in the Suffolk Transnational Law Journal, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Florida Bar Journal, National Law Journal, and Florida Banking. He also worked in the University of Florida Law School as a teaching fellow for Legal Research and Writing/Appellate Advocacy. He also taught law as an adjunct professor at Belhaven University. Code Name: Lise is his second published work, being published in 2019 by Gallery Books, an imprint founded in 2009 by Simon & Schuster, which is currently owned by CBS.

It's 1941, Europe lies under the boot of Nazi Germany and its allies (Death to Nazis!). Of the Western Allies, the United Kingdom stands alone, defiant and unconquered but outnumbered and very possibly outmatched. Nazi Armies have just swept into the Soviet Union and wrecked utter ruin upon the communist armies that they had oh so recently divided Poland with (I would suggest looking at our Trail of Hope review for more information on that. [Also, because I have to say it in case Tatiana Tankikova shows up: F#@! Stalin. Tankies get out!]). The United Kingdom isn't about to surrender though or cease struggling for victory, to that end it must not only fight in the air and the seas but must wage war in a deeply unconventional manner (Praise be unto the SOE, may The Laundry protect us from gibbering horrors from beyond spacetime that seek to eat our brains). Because as been stressed from the Bronze age, a nation that does not know it's enemies courts defeat. Enter the Special Operations Executive. The SOE was a secret organization running campaigns of espionage, sabotage, and recon in occupied Europe, they were also aiding resistance movements in the hopes of preventing the Nazis from gaining the full resources and wealth of the nations they had assaulted. Operatives of the SOE were spies, often conducting operations that meant they had no protection under the Laws of War and thus were open to levels of abuse that most western POWs would not be subject to. As such the Germans would often declare them terrorists and argue that they had the right to execute them out of hand, although they rarely did so. Not out of any moral concerns mind you, but because dead spies can't be forced to give up their fellows. Despite the danger, men and women across the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond would sign up to serve in the SOE, going into the very Lion's Den of occupied territory to perform vital acts and gather desperately needed intelligence. Our characters are examples of such people, let's take a look, shall we?

The focus of the novel and our main character so to speak is Odette Sansom. Odette was born in France and lost her father to War World I. She was raised partly by her grandfather who brought his grandchildren to the grave of their father (his son) and stressing that they would need to rise to the bar their father had set someday, correctly foreseeing another war (To be fair, that doesn’t take a genius if you’re not blinkered by a desire for revenge. Even President Wilson saw that.). Which honestly may set the stage for a lot of Odette's later behavior. That wasn't the sum total of her rather eventful childhood, when she was seven she contracted polio and for a year was completely paralyzed, when she recovered from that, polio stole her sight (I'm just gonna note, that it's because of vaccines that the vast majority of my readers don't have to deal with realities like that [What he means is, and I concur: VACCINATE YOUR SPAWN!] {So much for subtle}). For three years, Odette's Mother searched the medical world for a cure but failed, meanwhile Odette's Grandfather refused to accept blindness as an excuse, pushing her to find things she could do and compensate. Odette in her turn would embrace music to deal with a dark sightless world. Fortunately, a cure was found, but not from doctors but from an herbalist who concocted a solution that restored Odette's sight by bathing her eyes with it over an extended period of time (Interesting. I’m gonna call this a failure of bioprospecting). Odette would be assailed by other childhood illnesses, given the state of medical science at the time (It was bad) these diseases would be vastly more dangerous then what we in the modern developed world are used to and Odette's family would move her to Normandy and enroll her in a convent school hoping the climate and controlled environment of the convent would fortify her until adulthood. The nuns would provide Odette with a good education (though her knuckles would forever be callused by their rulers) and their final report would state that Odette was intelligent and principled but volatile and possessing a petulant streak. A lot would hang on that petulant streak. In 1929 she would meet her first husband, Roy Sansom and the father of her three daughters, Francoise (born 1932), Lily (born 1934) and Marianne (born 1936). They moved to London after Francoise was born and observed with growing fear the shadow growing across Europe.

In 1939 Roy enlisted in the English Army and Odette and the girls were evacuated to Somerset in 1940. While Odette had every reason to stay in England and concentrate on raising her girls, she still felt like she was hiding from her duty. Fate would intervene when she heard on the radio that the Royal Navy was asking everyone for any pictures they had of the French coast, family photos, postcards whatever could be found. Odette had a few herself and dutifully sent them in. She didn't send them to the Royal Navy though, she sent them to the War Office instead. Where she came to the attention of the gentlemen running the Special Operations Executive. They needed native French speakers and Odette certainly qualified, additionally as a woman she would have an easier time moving around an occupied nation. At first, she is hesitant to leave her daughters behind. Their Father is already serving on the front lines after all but from my end, it's not only the influence of her Grandfather that wins out but her desire to do something for both her home nations and to strike a blow against the Nazis in her own name (It is the duty of all good and decent people who are able to fight fascists). So she takes her daughters to a convent and ensures that an aunt and uncle will be on hand to care for them after some soul searching and heads off to her training. After completing her training she shipped out to France, which proved to be an adventure in and of itself but if you want to know that story you need to read the novel. It's in France that she met the main supporting character of our drama Peter Churchill.

Peter, who was of no relation to Prime Minister Churchill, was an upper-class British man by birth. The son of a British Consul, he was born in Amsterdam and attended the Malvern School (referred to as a public school in England [Because it is run by the public and not the state. These private boarding schools in the UK are basically training grounds for the british officer corps in this time period]) from the ages of 14 to 18. He then spent time in Switzerland attending Geneva University before finishing his education at the University in Cambridge in Modern Languages. While there he lead the Ice Hockey team and gained a reputation as a capable sportsman. He briefly served as a British Pro-Consul in Oran and Algeria before joining British Intelligence in 1940. In short Mr. Churchill was what British society at the time considered “The Right Sort” having the right family history, the right education and the right social connections that came with it. To his credit rather than use those connections to get himself a safe job in England or the United States, he chose to become a spy divesting himself of all the protections of the laws of war and jump into occupied territory to fight the Nazis in secret. As such he ran the SPINDLE network, a network of intelligence gathering in Southern France that as the novel progresses, seems rather cursed. In the novel, he serves as the primary supporting character which is honestly a good choice because personality wise, at least the personality presented to us in the novel, he's honestly not as interesting as Odette (People like him were also very normal in british society at the time). A lot of that is due to the novel being more focused on Odette. Another part of it is just circumstance as he does engage in more action but a good part of it is that Odette is simply the more outgoing person and she seems less concerned with risks. That said Mr. Churchill does a good job of showing his own courage and conviction.

The novel doesn't spend to much time on their espionage activities, showing us just enough to get a sense of what they were doing and their skill and daring in those activities. However, espionage is also a matter of luck and sometimes the other side has more than you, especially when one of the best spy catchers in the Nazi military is after you. The bulk of the story focuses on their capture and their treatment in captivity. It is here that Odette would perform the actions that would make her the single most decorated spy in War World II. First by convincing her captors that Mr. Churchill was her husband and didn't know anything of value and then standing up under torture and threat of death and refusing to give up any information (Damn). It's a rare person who can take torture knowing there is no help coming and not break but Odette managed it and the book leads us through her entire ordeal. From the prisons of the Italian Army and the Abwehr to the Gestapo and the all too human savagery of the concentration camps of Germany.

Code Name: Lise is an interesting book even without considering its source material. It bills itself as a nonfiction thriller. Now for those of you wondering what on Earth that means? Mr. Loftis presents us with a true story told via the conventions of fictional writing, by adding emotional states and making educated guesses to the internal thoughts and motivations of some of the people within the story. By doing so, he treads the line between writing a historical thriller and a straightforward biographical story. He avoids wandering too deeply into the weeds through careful research and use of primary sources and above all else he cites those sources. The back of the novel has a very robust notes section where you can find just what sources he used to come to the conclusions that he did. I do appreciate that and if we're going to be honest having someone willing to cite their sources clearly and cleanly is something to be encouraged. I also have to admit it's the first time I've seen a nonfiction story presented this way, with no fictionalized elements beyond the emotional states of the people involved and the result is the creation of a compelling work (The Hot Zone does the same thing{I haven't read that one}). It keeps the novel from being to dry as some nonfiction can be by bringing in humanizing emotions but avoids creating or adding fictional relationships or events. Additionally, I appreciate how he matter of factly presents the various crimes of the Nazis without using it for titillation or exploiting it for cheap thrills. Because of this, I am giving Code Name: Lise The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII Most Highly Decorated Spy by Larry Loftis an A.

If you enjoyed this review, consider joining us at where for as little as a dollar per month you can vote on upcoming reviews and at higher tiers vote on new books and even get sneak peeks at the reviews.  Next week we continue World War II month by moving all the way over to the Asian Front, to look at Shanghai 1937 Stalingrad on the Yangtze by Peter Harmsen.  As always Keep Reading.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen.
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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