Code Name Verity

Written by Elizabeth Wein
Review by Richard Lee

The first half of the story is told by ‘Verity’, who is being interrogated by the Gestapo. Writing is the small indulgence that has been allowed to her. They have brutalized her, broken her, but they still think she may have some more to tell them. Will she write what she will not say? Verity’s narrative tells of her friendship with Maddie, one of the few women pilots in the war. Her voice takes us away from the hideous Gestapo world into bike-rides over the Pennines, night-flights and escapades – but we always return. The bright, fearless heroine that we admire and laugh with and love transforms back into this broken woman, delaying her execution by pitiful betrayals of all she has lived for. But is she really broken? The second part of the narrative is taken up by Maddie, who flew her friend to France, but was shot down and finds herself sheltered by the Resistance.

I confess I was sceptical at first about an American author writing a cross-class British friendship that would convince me, and I was nervous of clumsy feet treading on my fierce British pride in the SOE. I needn’t have been. This is the best book I have read so far this year. It is listed as teenage/crossover, but I would recommend it to anyone over 14. It is thrilling, moving, engaging, and poignant by turns and beautifully, sinuously plotted and written. To take just one example, early on Verity and Maddie swap lists of their 10 worst fears. How this is returned to and echoed through the plot until it becomes entwined with the other great theme of the book – truth – is exquisitely done.

This is as good as The Machine-Gunners and The Silver Sword, two classic war books I have recently re-read – and I think I prefer it.