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A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE Kindle Edition

144 customer reviews

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Length: 528 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Product Description


It is a testament to Helm's detective skills that she has marshalled evidence to refute the various suppositions about Atkins, presenting a truth more surprising and more compelling than the numerous fictions constructed about this dedicated, if flawed, intelligence officer (WATERSTONE'S BOOKS QUARTERLY)

What makes the book as fascinating as the best of thrillers is that at every stage we know as much as she does, tracking Vera down clue by clue, contact by contact . . . It makes compulsive reading (Peter Lewis, DAILY MAIL)

She has now written a truly stunning book - quite the best by a non-veteran of secret warfare . . . If any young reader wonders 'why the bunting and the occasional tear (this VE Day, I recommend this book')

John Crossland, SUNDAY TIMES ('Carefully researched and engaging biography')


‘Sarah Helm reveals a woman whose aloofness obscured an exotic hidden past’

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1332 KB
  • Print Length: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #113,155 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By weatherwitch on 11 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
There is so much to say about this book. It seems there have been several conspiricies put forward about Vera Atkins, yet this author has dispelled them with excellent research of her own. Vera Atkins was a major player in the SOE (Special Oerative Executives) F (France) section and undertook her own search to find out what had become of her agents. Her boss Buckmaster made some highly damaging decisions, that condemned the lives of many agents, ignoring key information and clues and giving the Germans information that endangered the lives of his agents. Atkins fought against the War office and government to discover the fate of her own people and for the recognition of the women agents who fought as FANY to be recognised as military with the same rights. This book follows the training of the agents, then Veras lone search through the chaotic Allied occupied German and also to the Russian zone. The fate of the female agents was harrowing, all the more so for how the author feeds us the information, in the same way as Vera found it.

There is no doubt that Vera was a phenomenally brave and strong woman but she was always seen as cold. This book deals with much of that and of Veras secret past. Vera's life was surrounded and shrouded in secrets for almost all of it with good reason and the author reminds us of the social and political world and domestic views then which seriously affected Veras life. Even her own family knew virtually nothing about her past and her war work. Vera was awarded for her work but also blamed for it too. Whilst she went out of her way to trace her agents, she also blocked information that could have greatly helped others in the search for their own loved ones.

Many media reviews for this have called it as reading like a thriller.
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90 of 92 people found the following review helpful By George Morgan on 17 July 2011
Format: Paperback
My grandfather was Bill Rogers, described in the book as the doyen of the expatriate British community in Bucharest, and I knew Vera very well for 40 years up until her death. I found the book fascinating, particularly on Vera's early life which had been a bit of a mystery to me, but I had to take a lot with a pinch of salt. I tend to agree with reviewer S. Ricks that the author was excessively harsh on Vera and judged her out of context. The Vera I knew had a mind like a steel trap that could pick up any inconsistencies immediately and woe betide anyone who tried to get the better of her. However, she was also an extremely warm and loyal person, as well as vulnerable in certain ways, although it is true that she didn't suffer fools gladly. As S. Ricks states, she was from another era when they believed they had a duty to do whatever they could to protect their way of life from totalitarianism. Of course, Vera felt terrible sending young agents to France and she gave them time to reconsider after explaining to them that there was a strong possibility they would never come back. It was made easy for them to pull out without anyone else ever knowing. On the other hand, we have to take into account that the supply of potential recruits was extremely limited after De Gaulle prevented the British from recruiting French nationals. She talked of her agents often in later years and clearly felt deeply for them as human beings, as well as having a heavy sense of responsibility for those who failed to return which was why she insisted on being allowed to trace them and worked with War Crimes after the war. She once showed me a photograph of the defendants at the war crimes trial sitting like school boys with their headphones on.Read more ›
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Donnison on 19 July 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A Life In Secrets is by far the best book ive read this year...and the most chilling. I couldnt put it down .These lost SOE agents especially the female operatives, my godness , I am haunted by their photos. The author has masterfully written how Vera Atkins ,after the war found out what had happened to the missing agents .. Each being murdered in a most barbaric way by the Nazis. But dying with great courage that takes your breath away.
This great book should become a classic. I salute those patriots who served their country well.Awesome
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Hunter on 7 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I too was gripped by this book, not so much by the tale of heroism that is the background to the investigation, but more by the way Sarah Helm is as committed to finding the truth as Vera Atkins was. However, whereas Vera Atkins had understandable reasons for suppressing a few aspects of the truth from others, which Sarah Helms painstakingly uncovers, Sarah Helm herself is careful to present all the facts she uncovers, including a necessary degree of repetition, in a way that leaves the reader to draw the conclusions fairly and sympathetically:

That F Section of the SOE was seriously compromised by betrayals is not news, any more than that the rivalry between it and MI5 (and indeed the Free French efforts) led to a disastrous lack of co-operation. What makes this tale so compelling is the gradual exposition of the motives of one key player, Vera Atkins, through her upbringing, experiences and status. Her determination to discover the fate of each and every one of her missing female agents is the nub of the book. What it brings out is the moral dilemma of being Jewish of mixed nationality, of being an intelligent female in a man's world, of sending agents into the field who were both female and civilian at a time when such was still not really accepted as appropriate. In stressing the manner of their execution, and the Nazi policy of Nacht und Nagel, the author skirts around the rights and wrongs for them to be executed in the first place. Certainly, the physical courage of most of the captured agents is well testified; the moral courage of Vera Atkins is what also comes through. It is, without doubt, one of the most fascinating books I have read.
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