Code Name: Lise by Larry Loftis
The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy
The year is 1942, and World War II is in full swing.
Odette Sansom decides to follow in her war hero father’s footsteps by becoming an SOE agent to aid Britain and her beloved homeland, France. Five failed attempts and one plane crash later, she finally lands in occupied France to begin her mission.
It is here that she meets her commanding officer Captain Peter Churchill. As they successfully complete mission after mission, Peter and Odette fall in love. All the while, they are being hunted by the cunning German secret police sergeant, Hugo Bleicher, who finally succeeds in capturing them.
They are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and on to concentration camps in Germany, where they are starved, beaten, and tortured. But in the face of despair, they never give up hope, their love for each other, or the whereabouts of their colleagues.
This is portrait of true courage, patriotism and love amidst unimaginable horrors and degradation.
Q&A with Larry Loftis
Where did the inspiration come from for your new release?
I was reading a book (Colonel Henri’s Story) in my WWII library by a German spycatcher named Hugo Bleicher. He had cracked the largest Allied spy network in France, INTERALLIE, almost single-handedly. In this memoir he details how he cracked that circuit (arresting some 60 Allied agents) and then moved on to chase another circuit (SPINDLE). There was a woman he had heard about who was a suspected spy in southern France; “Lise” was her name, he wrote.
With this, I was off to the races (starting with acquiring Odette Sansom’s SOE file from the UK National Archives).
How does it feel to know your characters are out and about in reader’s imaginations?
Since the story is nonfiction, I’d rephrase that to “the reader’s awareness.” In 1950 Odette Sansom was famous (in the UK at least) because that was the year of the release of the movie about her, Odette (Anna Neagle in the starring role). However, that was 69 years ago and few people today (especially in the U.S.) have even heard of her. So it’s delightful to “re-introduce” her to the world. Especially heart-warming is seeing the joy that Odette’s family has had over the book and it’s reception.
Do you miss writing about them?
The one downside to nonfiction is that you can’t do sequels. But I was so close to the characters in this story (Odette, Peter Churchill, Alec “Arnaud” Rabinovich, and Hugo Bleicher) that I feel like I was a member of the SPINDLE circuit myself. A reader recently begged me to do a follow-up book on Bleicher (his story on INTERALLIE is just as fascinating) but I don’t think publishers would be interested in a book with any overlap to CODE NAME: LISE, at least not this close to CNL’s publication. I may chase that rabbit in a few years.
What was your publishing journey highlight?
In 2016, after Into the Lion’s Mouth came out, I received two emails from strangers, both of whom raved about the book. The first was from a guy named Bob, who said the book was a “scholarly thriller,” and that he loved it so much he bought copies for his sons. I read to the bottom …. “Bob” was none other than Dr. Robert Kuckuck, former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, just the top spy-tech agency in the world.
The second email, which came only weeks later, was from a guy who had been sent the book by a radio host out of Denver (who had interviewed me during pre-launch). It contained similar praise, noting that even those in the intelligence community were unaware of what I had revealed in the book. I didn’t recognize his name (Michael Morell), but I did his title: former CIA Director.
More recently, with CODE NAME:LISE, someone sent me a photo that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. had posted on Instagram … of his mother (Ethel Kennedy) reading CODE NAME:LISE in bed (with her dog!).
You just never know who eventually reads your books, and that’s quite fun.
What was the last book that made you laugh out loud?
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, was the last book. Towles may very well be the best writer today, and there are a number of hilarious (not to mention insightful) passages in the book.
However, the absolute funniest book I’ve read, because the author was a born comedian, was Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks (Britain’s chief cryptologist during WWII). Marks went on to become a Hollywood screenwriter after the war, and it seemed a perfect fit. In CODE NAME: LISE, I put in the end notes (largely because it’s a bit off-color) a hilarious but crude poem that Marks had made up and offered to Peter Churchill for coding (SOE agents were all to use a short personal passage in their transmissions to London). It’s on page 294, if anyone wants to see it.
What was the last book that made you cry?
I didn’t cry, but Sean Parnell’s retelling (in Outlaw Platoon) of the young girl who died in his arms in Afghanistan was moving and heartbreaking.
If you were on an island for a year what two books would you bring?
The Bible and my single-volume collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Where else do you have an endless supply of characters to illustrate every facet of human nature and existence?
Lastly, what is your favourite book quote?
This passage from Elleston Trevor (writing as Adam Hall) in The Quiller Memorandum:
“There is an innocense in the very word ‘afternoon.’ Morning is for trains and business and hangovers, night is for love and burglary. The afternoon is the halcyon, the calm coming between earnestness and drama. In Berlin it is a time for cream buns, and the cafés swarm, even on a winter’s day. But in Berlin there is, beneath this surface, a tide that runs darker than hell itself, that carries people into tributaries not of their choosing. I was on this tide.”
For my money, this tops anything from Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, or Fitzgerald. The man was simply a genius.
Thank you so much to Larry Loftis for visiting today. Code Name: Lise is out now and we will have a review on the site very soon.
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