I had never heard of British spy Odette Sansom Churchill before Code Name: Lise because, like any spy worth their salt, Odette has managed to fly under the radar. The French born Odette’s espionage career began when she answered an ad for photographs of the French coast. When she inquired about getting her photos back she was instead approached about joining the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E).
And there was something about the eyes – dark, determined…defiant. If his instincts were right, this was a girl who would throw herself headlong into danger. He wrote the letter.
Odette, a married mother of three, joined the program and was soon in France completing missions with Captain Peter Churchill. Odette, who by this point was estranged from her husband, and Peter fell in love over the course of their time working together but unfortunately they were discovered and turned over to the German secret police. They were sent to Fresnes Prison where Odette, a fast thinker, said that she and Peter were married and that her “husband” was Winston Churchill’s nephew. This lie gave them some protection as a potential bargaining chip for the Germans but did not save Odette from torture, near starvation and an eventual death sentence with a train ticket to Ravensbruck. Odette also heavily implied that she was the commanding officer of the operation which meant that Peter was only interrogated twice during their nearly two year incarceration while Odette was subjected to horrific abuses on multiple occasions.
Unfortunately, for a book about an exceptional spy, there is very little action in Code Name: Lise. Loftis does an excellent job of writing non-fiction to read like a novel but unfortunately so much of Odette’s story takes place behind bars and is not as exciting as I was expecting with such a lofty title. Odette’s commendations came mainly from her refusal to divulge information about the British spy network after she was caught by Germans and subjected to torture for over a year as well as her quick thinking that saved the life of her commanding officer. There is no denying that Odette was a war hero but her life’s story feels a bit flat on paper.