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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. She leaves behind her children, her friends, and her life. After five failed landing attempts—including a plane crash—she finally arrives in occupied France to begin her mission. It is here that she meets her commanding officer, Captain Peter Churchill.

As they complete mission after mission, their forged bond of trust gives way to love. All the while, they are hunted by Germany’s top spy-catcher, the cunning and relentless Hugo Bleicher. Bleicher finally succeeds in capturing them and they are sent to Paris’s Fresnes prison, and then to concentration camps. In captivity, Peter and Odette are starved, beaten, and tortured, but never give up the whereabouts of their colleagues, their hope, or their love for each other.

The Big Thrill caught up to international bestselling author Larry Loftis to discuss his nonfiction thriller, CODE NAME: LISE: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy:

Without spoilers, are there any genre conventions you wanted to upend or challenge with this book?

So far as I know, I’m the only author who writes nonfiction thrillers. As Kirkus Reviews noted in their review of CODE NAME: LISE, “every chapter ends on a cliffhanger.” Since the best thrillers only have about 50 percent of chapters ending in cliffhangers, I think I have “upended” the “boring” stigma usually attached to nonfiction books.

What attracts you to this book’s genre?

I love espionage, thrillers, and WWII history, so writing a nonfiction spy thriller combines all of my interests.

What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?

As always with nonfiction, determining what really happened. Memories fade over time and even primary sources get it wrong sometimes, so only synthesizing with archived records helps one find the truth.

Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?

The book is nonfiction so the story is part of history.

What’s the one question you wish someone would ask you about this book, or your work in general?

How do you make a nonfiction book a thriller?


Larry Loftis is the international bestselling author of the nonfiction spy thriller, INTO THE LION’S MOUTH: The True Story of Dusko Popov — World War II Spy, Patriot, and the True Life Inspiration for James Bond.

To learn more about Larry and his work, please visit his website.