Don’t let the title fool you, it’s about the only titillating thing you’ll read in this book. I know that sounds like a slam on the book, but with a title like that, I was expecting the text to be a bit more reader accessible. I really can’t recommend this one unless you already have a good foundation of WWII history, especially the British intelligence front during the war. Between myriad acronyms and an intense expectation of European geography, it is not a book to pick up on a lazy afternoon.
Binney chronicles the exploits of ten women agents who operated in occupied Europe during WWII. The only woman of the ten I had previously known about was Noor Inayat Khan. I came across Khan when I discovered the Rejected Princesses tumblr. I don’t want to knock Binney, but Khan’s entry into the tumblr was more engaging and personable. Binney, probably because he is writing from more of an academic perspective, only recounts the details of Khan’s fieldwork. Don’t get me wrong, Khan was probably one of the most badass people operating in occupied Paris. But Binney describes her final months with such sterility, it is hard to picture just how much Khan sacrificed to be a secret agent being pursued by Nazis. One aspect Binney glosses over is Khan’s religion; according to the Rejected Princesses tumblr, Khan was involved in Sufism, which includes a deep respect for truth telling. So Khan believed dearly in never lying, but she still signed up to become a spy. How bad ass is that? Binney makes no mention of this, leaving his written account of Khan lifeless and dry.
However, while Binney does fail to convey each woman’s personality to the page, he does make sure to mention, at least once, that they were pretty. That’s what’s important, right?
I know I’m being harsh, that at that time in the world, of course there were going to be intelligence memos that comment on the female agents’ appearances as well as their work ethic. I just wish these ten women had more name recognition and a book where their countenance was recounted the same as any male agent’s would be.