Book Review for “One Woman’s War” by Christine Wells.
Summary: “When Victoire “Paddy” Bennett first walks into the Admiralty’s Room 39, home to the Intelligence Division, all the bright and lively young woman expects is a secretarial position to the charismatic Commander Ian Fleming. But soon her job is so much more, and when Fleming proposes a daring plot to deceive the Germans about Allied invasion plans he requests the newlywed Paddy’s help. She jumps at the chance to work as an agent in the field, even after the operation begins to affect her marriage. But could doing her duty for King and country come at too great a cost? Socialite Friedl Stöttinger is a beautiful Austrian double agent determined to survive in wartime England, which means working for MI-5, investigating fifth column activity among the British elite at parties and nightclubs. But Friedl has a secret–some years before, she agreed to work for German Intelligence and spy on the British. When her handler at MI-5 proposes that she work with Serbian agent, Dusko Popov, Friedl falls hopelessly in love with the dashing spy. And when her intelligence work becomes fraught with danger, she must choose whether to remain loyal to the British and risk torture and execution by the Nazis, or betray thousands of men to their deaths. Soon, the lives of these two extraordinarily brave women will collide, as each travels down a road of deception and danger leading to one of the greatest battles of World War II.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical; UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, WWII, Romance, Thriller.
All my life, I’ve been a fan of the James Bond movies (well, until recently. I am NOT a fan of Daniel Craig in the part, and I’ll be happy to see the back of him in those films). My husband read and kept eight of the Ian Fleming novels, which I still have on my shelf (no, I haven’t read any of them, but I put the first one on my Classics Club spin). So, a novel about the woman who probably inspired Fleming to write the character Miss Moneypenny was obviously a book I wanted to read. Mind you, in most of the movies she’s not depicted as being much of a feminist, and she does swoon over Bond a bit too much for my taste, but still… that was then, right? However, if this woman really was the inspiration for Moneypenny, then Fleming got her ALL wrong.
You see, to begin with Wells paints this portrait Paddy, a woman who wants to help with the war effort, but she’s totally unsuited to the most likely job around, that of being a nurse. Plus, she’s not the kind of girl to start working in a factory. So, when she lands this secretarial position in the intelligence offices, she finally feels like she’s doing some good. Plus, she isn’t just filing, typing, and making tea – some of the people in the office seem to listen to her, which makes her feel valuable. Any employee who feels appreciated and needed is going to increase their efforts to be helpful – that’s just human nature. You can even call it a positive Catch-22, if you will. Then, Wells tells us about Friedl, an Austrian national who is in England trying to stay away from the war and the Nazis. However, Friedl is able to help the British since she can infiltrate the pro-Nazi elements and gather information for them.
Now, since both of these women were real people, and since both of them were involved with top secret work, this left a whole lot available for Wells to fill in the gaps with her imagination. Furthermore, using an actual scheme that the British pulled on the Nazis lays down a fascinating, and (dare I say it) thrilling bit of espionage as the perfect backdrop for both these women. Obviously the most difficult thing to do with this particular type of historical fiction is to know when to insert the facts, and when to embellish with the fiction. I think that Wells melded these two perfectly, while also giving us insight into the man who invented the world’s most iconic fictional spy. It should be no surprise that despite how much Fleming the naval intelligence officer seemed to value his female colleagues, Fleming the man wasn’t such a nice guy when it came to how he treated the women he saw outside work hours. While most people knew this about Fleming, I’m glad that Wells didn’t try to whitewash him.
All told, this really is a very fun novel. There’s intrigue, there’s a bit of romance, there are a few edge-of-the-seat moments when we’re unsure if things will work out. There’s also a highly feminist undertone that Wells highlights here. Yes, I know, some readers have wondered if there weren’t any male spies during WWII, due to all the stories about the women who were doing this job. But the truth is, most of the men were on the front lines with the hardware weaponry, so it was largely left to women to use their brain weaponry to help win the war. I’m glad I bought this book and I’m sure I’ll want to lend it to many of my friends. That’s why I’m very warmly recommending it with a very healthy 4.5/5 stars!
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “One Woman’s War” by Christine Wells on October 4, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell’s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.