Customer Review

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, unbiased and exceptionally well researched, 11 Sept. 2007
This review is from: A Life In Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE (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. I understand how they mean it, but these were real people horrifically tortured and mistreated at the concentration camps. I don't find that a 'thriller' book. Vera was a strong, powerful woman focused on her work and to ensure the best for her agents in their memory. The book is a difficult read because of the topic and because I can't quite decide how I feel about the woman personally although she did great work in terrible circumstances and I have a huge respect for her. The author Sarah Helm has done a phenomenal job on a contraversial subject (SOE) and on a highly contraversial woman without bias. Full marks for a truely excellent book.
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