cover image The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Agents of the Special Operations Executive

The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Agents of the Special Operations Executive

Marcus Binney. William Morrow & Company, $26.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-054087-6

In this collection of short, suspenseful biographies, Binney (Our Vanishing Heritage; Chateaux of the Loire, etc.) draws on published accounts, interviews and official records (including personnel files) to recount the careers of 10 women who spied for the British Special Operations Executive in German-occupied Europe. During World War II, these women operated as intelligence agents, clandestine radio operators and German saboteurs for the SOE--an organization created to wreak havoc behind German lines. Several were caught, tortured and later executed. Among them were Christina Granville, whom the press later dubbed""a modern pimpernel no man could resist,"" Virginia Hall, an American newspaper woman with a wooden leg who worked three years in occupied territory without being arrested, and Lela Karayanni, who organized sabotage with the help of her five children. Although much has already been written about some of the women in this history, a few of those featured are less well known, such Paola Del Din, who carried secret messages through the German front line in Florence. And Binney's use of official sources lends an air of authenticity often absent in some earlier accounts of these women's careers. (He also provides background on the SOE's history, training and operations for readers untutored in WWII special operations and espionage particulars.) Although the treatment of these heroines is a bit cursory and occasionally romanticized (e.g.""the girls who served as secret agents in Churchill's Special Operations Executive were young, beautiful, and brave""), Binney succeeds in presenting a lively, accurate introduction to 10 courageous women and their unusual exploits.