One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny

Written by Christine Wells
Review by India Edghill

England, WWII: and another take on Operation Mincemeat, the most famous espionage operation of any war you care to mention. (It involved tossing a corpse loaded with supposedly top-secret papers into the water off Spain in the hopes that the Germans would find it and believe the lie that the coming invasion of Europe would start in Greece rather than its actual target, Sicily. Spoiler: it worked!)

Despite the title, this is the story of two women: Paddy Bennett (considered to be the model for Miss Moneypenny) and Friedl Stöttinger (a double agent). Paddy works for Room 39, a top-secret Naval Intelligence Division. Among Room 39’s hopeful schemes is Operation Mincemeat, the brainchild of Commander Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming). It’s vital that the Germans think the coming landing in southern Europe is not Sicily. The plan involves an amazing amount of detail work, and Paddy is delighted with the opportunity to be one of Room 39’s active agents. But her war work begins to cause tensions in her marriage, as she can’t reveal her work—even to her husband.

Friedl is a full-blown double agent, involved in ensuring the operation’s false documents actually get to Berlin. But when she meets super-spy Duško Popov (one of the real-life models for James Bond), Friedl falls hopelessly in love with him, endangering herself and her mission. Unfortunately, Friedl’s story really doesn’t belong in the book; she was indeed a spy but had nothing to do with Operation Mincemeat.

That caveat notwithstanding, One Woman’s War is a fine novel, with plenty of twists, turns, and tension. The author manages to make long-ago events with long-known outcomes seem fresh and vividly real. In a market flooded with WWII novels, this one is a standout. And if you want to know more about the history, I highly recommend Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre.