Cold Lonely Courage
by Soren Paul Petrek
Any reader of historical fiction knows that the facts have to be correct, and in this case, when the main character is a female assassin, you need to believe in the story. This is no easy task for any writer, yet here is an excellent example of how to weave a great fictional story into a real-life event.
The heroine is Madeleine Toche, and she becomes known throughout France as the Angel of Death. Yet, all she wants is a normal home life, with a husband, kids and to run the family restaurant in Provence. Instead, she is brutally raped by a German officer on her way back from the market. This horrific incident occurs shortly after the death of her twin brother, fighting for France in the war. With the added insult of German occupation in her beloved native land, these events fuel her hatred, compelling her to react in some way. And so, to exact her revenge, she flees France (having killed the German soldier who raped her) and heads for England with the aid of the French Resistance.
Determined to play her part, she is selected by the British Intelligence (SEO) to work for them in bringing down the Reich, and in particular the SS and Gestapo High Command. Her training is managed by Jack Teach, who recognises the killer instinct in her, whilst also succumbing to her charms as a woman. She is transformed into a lethal killing machine, using her beauty and physicality to gain access to her intended targets. As a femme fatale, she is a mixture of innocence and seduction. Her method is to play on the passions of men, while remaining level-headed and focused in the face of danger. It is a survival mentality.
This particular period in history never fails to fascinate me. As a student of German at university, I studied the events running up to and during World War II in great detail, and the horrors still haunt me, yet there is still more to be learned, to understand and to never, ever forget. The atrocities of that time must be remembered if we are to avoid such vileness and terror in the future. This story does not hold back on the gory facts of the war, there is a lot of killing, much hatred and yet an indomitable human spirit somehow rises to the surface and triumphs.
The chapters are short, and the book is fast-paced. The characters cover the whole gamut of personality types, from the cruel and vindictive Nazi officers to the humorous and considerate police investigators, Horst & Willi, who prove the adage that not all Germans were evil warmongers. Some ‘bit-part’ characters are maybe not as developed as they could be, but the essence of each one is sufficiently defined to make the story believable.
The scenes centring on the massacre of the villagers of Oradour-sur-Glane truly hit the spot. Although there is no definitive evidence as to the reason for this attack by the German forces, the line adopted by the writer is very credible. I have visited this village, or rather what remains of it, near Limoges and the sensation of utter devastation and horror is still clear to this day. It is a haunting place, left in its destroyed form to act as a reminder to us of the true atrocities of war. When I chose this book I was not aware of the references to Oradour within the story, but the way the events are handled by the writer show great respect and sensitivity to those innocent people who lost their lives in the massacre. I guess that, for me, this made the whole storyline so much more believable.
Whilst they are a few typos and grammatical issues along the way, the pace of the story moves along with ease and you cannot fail to feel moved by the drama of the setting and the events of that time. It’s a thoroughly ‘enjoyable’ read, dealing with a period of recent history that is still raw for many and one that we will never fully comprehend, yet with a plot that lifts the spirits as the evildoers are wiped out and made to pay for their crimes.
I will definitely look out for other offerings by this author, given the skilful combination of history and fiction.