I’ve written a short story called Hunting Nazis for the End of Module Assessment (EMA) for A215 Creative Writing. The target word count was 2,500 with an upper limit of +10%. The first draft weighed in at 5k words, double the target length. However some of this was because although I plotted it I needed to tell myself the story in the first draft. Once I got to the end it was much easier to re-edit and take out some of it.
The central premise is that Reggie and Dot (from the earlier story Planting the Past) have been hunting nazis guilty of war crimes against the members of the French resistance and SOE agents supporting the network that they were both part of during World War Two. The story takes place in Berlin in 1953 when they are tying up the last few loose ends.
There are a couple of supporting characters, Paul, another ex-resistance fighter, but one that Dot (called Nancy by him as that was her code name) doesn’t trust, she’s convinced that he betrayed people to the Germans. He was arrested and deported to Berlin by the Gestapo as they left France in September 1944. Somehow he managed to survive this and the fall of Berlin to the Soviets and then establish a nightclub in a converted public air raid shelter near the Potsdamerplatz. One of his employees, a barman named Gustav is an ex-SS rifleman attached to the unit lead by SS Captain Hechte in the final days of the Reich. Reggie and Dot are looking to recover a relic stolen by Hechte and to confirm his death in May 1945 at the hands of the soviets.
There are also a couple of friendlies from their SOE days, still employed by British Intelligence but now spying on the soviets with the help of Paul and his nightclub. Their worry is that Reggie and Dot’s activities might scare off the Soviet officers they’ve been blackmailing if they are too blatant.
No spoilers, so that’s as much as I can say other than that it all comes to a climax in an abandoned bunker under the Soviet zone.
Flames in the Field: Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France by Rita Kramer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
While this has lots of fascinating information about SOE Operations in France in WW2 it needs a better editor. The nature of the story, primarily of the secret operations in German occupied France in 1943 and the SD penetration of the SOE network, is one of many parallel threads and the uncovering of a mystery. So this makes it hard to just write a linear narrative, and the author has done a pretty good job of writing very readable prose that clearly explains what is going on. However there are a few places where the ordering of the material goes backwards within a few paragraphs and crucial pieces of information are given out of order.
The book shows an awful lot of research was done by the author, over a period of what seems to be years, and building on the work done by a number of predecessors. There is an academic level of referencing and footnotes. Â There are several distinct parts to the book. The first is a narrative on four women SOE agents killed by the nazis at Natzweiler, which then widens to encompass the others that were arrested around the same time and that shared their captivity in Fresnes and then Karlsruhe. Each of these women is identified and has their life story before joining SOE told. Where it is known this then leads up to how they were captured.
Another piece of the narrative are the attempts by others (initally Vera Atkins in 1945-6 and then Jean Overton Fuller) to find out what happened to the women after they were arrested. This then leads nicely into attempts to work out whether or not the women were betrayed, and if so by whom. There has been a lot of controversy about this, and many of the participants in the events have competing theories. Traitors in SOE, strategic deception and sacrifice by the British, french informers, poor operational security of the SOE agents, German counter-intelligence competence. Each of these is disected in turn, sometimes adding new perspectives to help rule them in/out.
Lastly there is some discussion of the post-war discoveries as the secrets kept for 20-30 years following the war started to come out. How the revelations around both Ultra intelligence and the British strategic deception plans changed how the events of 1943 are interpreted to modern eyes.
On a content basis this should be a five star book, it draws together all the earlier sources and is well written. However the structure lets it down, and makes it harder to assimilate. It reads like the collected notes of the author more than as a structured narrative.
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