Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: "A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII" by Sarah Helm

I've said this at least 10 times, I don't do well with spy novels. But, a nonfiction book that talks about spies? Sign me up buttercup.

There was all kinds of espionage going on during WWII (hello most obvious sentence that I will probably write this week). If you were with the British, you might have made contact with a woman named Vera Atkins. This woman was mysterious with a capital M. (But not *that* M, though he's in there too). She was the last person that many British spies saw as they loaded onto airplanes that would drop them into Nazi occupied France, or one of the other lowland countries.

Vera took her responsibilities so seriously, but she wasn't this, like super loving den mother type. She was empathetic and kind but never let anyone get too close to her, and didn't get too close to too many people. To some she was even loving, but to others she was frosty and disapproving. This didn't always serve her well. The people that she was most concerned about was the young lady spies who she sent to the continent to serve.

During the war some spies were captured, or didn't make contact or any other number of other things; and lost contact with their handlers. When the war ended, Vera made it her mission to find these spies. (I was like, uh duh, of course someone has to go find out what happened to them. But she got a surprisingly lot of push back from the upper ups. They initially gave her 3 months to find something like 15 people in super chaotic post war Europe.There was some serious a*holeness going on around there though, as governments usually do.) The good news is that she found out what happened to all of them. The bad news is, there were almost no happy endings. But there were tales of bravery, courage, selflessness and honor under the worst circumstances imaginable. God bless those men and women for their incredible, astounding bravery.

Here are the cons: the book is a little tough sometimes (spoiler: one of the girls may have gotten put into a furnace alive), and there are SO many names to remember. It's a big cast of characters, and then since their spies they all have like, 4 names a piece and that gets to be a lot.

I wrestled with my rating, but I'm going to put it at a 3.5. If you have an interest in spies, World War II, mysterious women and bravery get thee to the library or indie bookseller in your area and pick this up!


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