The Kirkus review for Ariel Lawhon’s latest novel calls Code Name Hélène “her best book to date.” I agree. And I’m a gal who has read—and loved—every single one of Lawhon’s books, from her debut, The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress to her 2018 release, I Was Anastasia. Lawhon has an eye for finding the most intriguing events and people of the past and then bringing them to life in historical fiction. I’d go so far as to say her most recent page-turner is one of my all-time favorite WWII novels ever.
Based on the real-life exploits of an Australian-born socialite and journalist, the book takes readers to the Mediterranean coast of Marseille in the mid-1930s, and as the story unfolds, we are invested in Nancy Wake who evolves into a resistance leader in German-occupied France. Wake, who goes by many names, is a beauty who uses red lipstick to disarm men but is fearless enough to kill a Nazi with her bare hands. Lawhon has always written complex characters who dazzle me, but Nancy Wake is a heroine that lets Lawhon’s flair for gritty dialogue soar. As if the bones of the story weren’t already action-packed enough, the author amps up the tension even more with a narrative structure that alternates between the years of Wake’s courtship and marriage, and her time spent with a cadre of men risking their lives as spies.
This book is gripping. Engrossing. Unputdownable. It’s all the feels and all the adjectives. Seriously. I’d love to see it made into a movie. The real-life Nancy Wake makes Katniss Everdeen look like she’s out for a tea party.