Code Name: BeatrizCode Name: Beatriz by Lou Cadle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Code Name Beatriz by Lou Cadle is historical fiction done right. I always shy from historical fiction, not because I don’t like it, but because it’s really hard to get right. That’s doubly so when it’s one of my favourite and most read periods of history. I’ve read about SOE agents since finding a copy of Carve Her Name With Pride at my granny’s house when I was ten. [See my reviews of Woman in Arms, Vera Atkins biography, and my stories Hunting Nazis and Sticky End.]┬áLou Cadle has done a great job with Code Name Beatriz.

Code Name Beatriz

French resistance fighters being arrested, France, Jul 1944
French resistance fighters being arrested, France, Jul 1944 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Koll, Bild 183-J27289)

Starting in the early spring of 1944 it follows an SOE agent with the code name Beatriz (hence the title). Beatriz is a fully rounded and complex character, which makes her interesting. She’s not a trope, but a real woman. We see her develop as she starts her operational life in occupied France. Despite her best efforts she cares for the other resistance members. She burns with hatred for the fascists, the Spanish ones as much as the nazis.

Lou Cadle makes no concessions made to being nice, or ignoring parts of life. The story is gritty and very realistic. It has both darkness and light. Beatriz is Spanish, and a refugee from the civil war during which she lost her parents. She married an Englishman, who was posted missing in action. Joining SOE is her way to get revenge on the fascists. The book starts with her completing her training as a wireless operator and being dropped into France in early 1944.

Through the story there are a series of close calls, and several setbacks. We see Beatriz deal with these, her mental state and physical action. She hardens in some ways, as she softens in others. As time passes she moves from expecting to die, as her predecessor did, to hoping for life after the war.

Historical Fiction Done Well

Code Name Beatriz is well researched, I’ve read dozens of books about SOE in particular and hundreds about WW2, lots of them first-hand accounts by people who survived it. Nothing stood out as being egregiously wrong. I recognised most of the situations as being based on the real stories of SOE Agents, somewhere someone had been through the same thing in a very similar way. That said Code Name Beatriz is a work of fiction, and there are bits that get bent to fit the story. There’s also a very good use of suspense in places. One is never sure if any operation is going to come off, and whether Beatriz will survive the war.

Verdict

It’s a perilous life, and there’s a suspense to it that kept me reading late into the night to finish it. Lots of things that go wrong, and narrow escapes. Beatriz falls for another agent, and despite this carries on her fight. There’s not much left to the imagination, and the suspense carries on to the end. My only disappointment is that this is most likely a stand-alone book, there’s not loads of space for a sequel.

If you like good rounded stories, that don’t pull punches, then you ought to read Code Name Beatriz. All the more so if you want to understand life in occupied Europe and the risks that the resistance took to help hasten freedom for us all.

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