The Blurb (from Goodreads):
This book is based on the life of Nancy Wake, an Australian expat who worked as a reporter for Hearst in Paris just before WWII and later as a spy for the British. Lawhon throws readers into the middle of the action, as Nancy, under the alias Hélène, prepares to parachute from an RAF plane into France to help the Resistance in 1944, carrying in her head memorized lists of vital data, including bridges targeted for destruction and safe house addresses. After she lands, the story flashes back eight years, as Nancy struggles for respect and recognition as a journalist; despite her firsthand observations of Nazi brutality in 1930s Vienna, her editor is reluctant to publish a story about what she’s seen. Frequent jumps in time draw out the arc of Wake’s remarkable life; despite her statement early on that women’s weapons of warfare were limited to “silk stockings and red lipstick,” by the end she’s proven herself skillful at physical combat as well.
Inspired by the daring true-life adventures of Nancy Wake in France during the Second World War, Code Name Helene is a very readable account of an extraordinary life. Born in Australia, Nancy worked as a reporter for Hearst in Paris just before the outbreak of the war. She married a Frenchman, and was later dropped behind enemy lines to work as a spy for the British. The book begins as Nancy jumps by parachute from an RAF plane into Nazi-occupied France, then moves back and forth in time explaining how she came to be the head of a resistance network there. Nancy is an appealing character, full of spirit and life, and the story of how she struggles against misogyny and mistrust to help win the war is brought to vivid and compelling life on the page. It’s a big book – 437 pages – and has a cast of hundreds. At times, the jumps around in time can be a little confusing – for example, scenes where Nancy meets people who have already appeared dozens of times in previous pages. But Ariel Lawhon writes with such verve that the pages seem to fly past, and Nancy’s big, bold, brave personality is given every chance to shine.