Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis!
Here’s a little info about the book:
The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing.
Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission.
It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill. As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them.
They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and on to concentration camps in Germany, where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.
And about author Larry Loftis:
Larry Loftis is the international bestselling author of the nonfiction spy thrillers, Code Name: Lise – The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy and Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov – World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond.
His books have been translated into numerous languages and can be found in Portugal, Holland, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, India, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the UK.
And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Code Name: Lise:
This story of wartime bravery is stirring stuff, the fortitude and audacity of Odette Sansom will fill you with awe. Readers of Code Name: Lise can only wonder whether their own courage would hold up in similar terrible circumstances, even under torture and sentence of death. Thank goodness we don’t have to face that trial and that is down to the bravery of Odette and people like her. This is Loftis’ second foray into espionage during World War Two following his 2015 biography of Dusko Popov, the Second World War super spy, Into the Lion’s Mouth. Loftis says this of Odette’s war:
“This story, I realized, had more chills and thrills than even Popov’s adventure, and was perfect for my nonfiction thriller style.”
Loftis also notes that there’s a love story here too, so this is something of a perfect storm for a writer. Code Name: Lise is all the more important now as we reach the stage where living memory, life experience has passed and we are into an age when the events of the war are exclusive a matter of record. Odette’s is a story that should be told and never forgotten. The one thing everyone will take away from Loftis’s account of her life is what an amazing ‘ordinary/extraordinary’ woman Odette Sansom, aka Lise, was.
Loftis writes popular history, he has his own way of telling a story that is appealing and accessible, dramatising events, but always within the bounds and context of the evidence; the records in the archives, the letters, and personal accounts, both film and document. Odette, from a relatively comfortable financial background (not rich, not poor), formerly a sickly child, now a mother of three girls, was a hero from out of the crowd. Thank goodness this French woman was an Anglophile who despised Nazism.
Loftis tells us that Odette was the most highly decorated spy of the Second World War and that she was fearless and principled. No one could doubt the courage of anyone who worked for the SOE, Special Operations Executive, behind enemy lines but Odette you’ll realise must have been a special person. In one of those moments of serendipity, it all began with a mistake.
Odette Sansom was living an ordinary life, as peacefully as the war allowed, her husband in the army. She probably had no idea that she possessed extraordinary qualities that would make her ideal for the covert war, qualities that SOE recognised and valued, qualities probably seen as a draw back when she was a child. When she left her convent school the nuns described her as ‘intelligent and principled’ but also ‘petulant and volatile’. Her childhood was a challenging one. Odette Marie Céline was born in 1912, the first child of Yvonne and Gaston Brailly. Gaston, a banker in Amiens, became a WWI hero (Croix de Guerre, Médaille Militaire), sadly he died in an explosion rescuing two wounded colleagues less than two weeks before the armistice was signed in 1918. At seven Odette contracted polio, she went blind, a condition that was thought to be irreversible, fortunately three years later her sight had recovered, she was then afflicted with rheumatic fever and was left partially paralysed. Odette married Roy Sansom when she was eighteen, eventually moving to England. The couple’s three children Francoise (1932), Lily (’34) and Marienne (’36), would be educated at a convent school while their father and mother were at war.
In the spring of ’42 it was a fluke that took Odette to the War Office for an interview, she sent photographs of the French coast that should have gone to the Admiralty to them. Here she met the first of three people to play key roles in her war, Captain Selwyn Jepson, he found her to be:
“Direct-minded and courageous. God help the Nazis if we can get her near them.”
Odette initially turned down the approach to join SOE but her sense of duty led her to rethink. Next up was Major Maurice Buckmaster, he had returned to England on one of the last boats out of Dunkirk, he now headed F-Section (France). He told Odette bluntly:
“In many ways it’s a beastly life . . . We can do little to save you.”
“To save me from what?”
Buckmaster shrugged. “Oh, from the usual sickening sort of thing; prison, the firing squad, the rope, the crematorium; from whatever happens to amuse the Gestapo.”
Odette passed recruitment training and before the end of the year she was landed in France. There she met Peter Churchill, no relation to the great man but his name was to play a part in his survival of the war after capture by the Nazis. In the time they spent together Odette and Peter fell in love before that she was supposed to move on to Auxerre but Peter recognised how valuable she could be to his network, eventually cajoling London into accepting that she should stay. The story that follows is one of courier work, covert operations, lucky escapes from the enemy, sometimes by bluffing their way through checkpoints, but they faced the daily possibility of betrayal and were hunted constantly by the Nazis. Eventually Odette and Peter were captured and imprisoned, Odette was sentenced to death and was sent to Ravenbrück concentration camp, suffering appalling treatment. That’s some of the story, it’s a pale summary of the whole.
Loftis tells Odette’s story with passion, he has an eye for detail, and Code Name: Lise conveys not only the bravery of Odette but also the danger and horror of her war time life. Fans of inspiring biography and general history, or WWII in particular, will enjoy this book. The photoplates and appendix are extensive. This is a story that benefits from being told with a little gusto. Odette’s life isn’t as well known as it should be, but this timely history, it’s seventy-five years since the end of the war, can help to remedy that.
Paul Burke 4*
Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis
Mirror Book 9781912624713 pbk Feb 2020