Today I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for Code Name Helene. I’m welcoming Dan Moorhouse from Schools History to Portable Magic with his review, which is shared with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting us on the blog tour and for the copy of the book via the publisher.
In 1936, foreign correspondent, Nancy Wake, witnesses first-hand the terror of Hitler’s rise in Europe. No sooner has Nancy met, fallen in love with and agreed to marry French industrialist Henri Fiocca, than the Germans invade France and force her to take on her first code name of many. The Gestapo call her the White Mouse for her remarkable ability to evade capture when smuggling Allied soldiers across borders. She becomes Hélène when she leaves France to train in espionage with an elite special forces group in London. Then, when she returns to France, she is the deadly Madame Andrée. But the closer France gets to liberation, the more exposed Nancy – and the people she loves – will become.
Inspired by true wartime events, Code Name Hélène is a gripping and moving story of extraordinary courage, unfaltering resolve, remarkable sacrifice – and enduring love.
Codename Helene is a novel based on the exploits of Nancy Wake, the most decorated Allied servicewoman of the Second World War. Drawing on Wake’s biography and other source material, Lawhon writes a gripping tale of Wake’s life in Europe in the build up to the outbreak of war and of her exploits as an SOE trained operative in Nazi occupied Europe.
Lawhon’s novel throws the reader straight into the action. At once you are gripped by the sheer magnitude of what is being attempted. The fierce determination within the protagonist is evident straight away. She is clearly something quite exceptional, yet there is a mystique around her that leads you to want to know more.
Utilising a dual timeline approach, Lawhon achieves this with aplomb. Seamlessly moving her story from 1944/5 and the rigours of the agents’ wartime work to the mid 1930s, the changes in the political landscape and the moments that create this fiercely determined young woman.
The real life version of Nancy Wake’s exploits is extraordinary, almost unbelievable were it not known to be true. This presents a challenge to any writer attempting to develop characters around such a fast moving and demanding backdrop. Lawhon tackles this incredibly well. The plot is broken down into four main plots within a plot. Summarised at the outset of the novel, these are the protagonists time as a smuggler; spy; fighter and target. Yet the nature of a wartime special agent’s role is such that there is an element of those areas cropping up more than once and of other issues, such as emotion, love and feelings, becoming integral to the plot.
The development of the lead character is perhaps both the major accomplishment and at the same time possible weakness of the novel. On the one hand there is a lot of depth to the personal life issues that create the personality capable of becoming so ruthless an agent. Yet for some readers this will diminish from the flow of the action.
As someone with a background in history I found this novel very well written and appealing. I was pleased to see references to the authors’ sources. They didn’t detract from my reading of the story whilst providing opportunities to find out more about the historical background.
Code Name Helene is available from Amazon.
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