The Secret Stealers

Written by Jane Healey
Review by Fiona Alison

Recently widowed Anna Cavanaugh takes a job with the OSS in Washington, DC, becoming assistant to General William Donovan, Roosevelt’s right-hand man. Anna loves the work but yearns to be transferred overseas as a spy. She speaks French like a native, fluent German and, although 25, can pass for 17. Trained in England as an expert radio operator, and dropped behind enemy lines in December 1942, it is not until she is leaving that she is told that Josette, her best friend from her Paris days at Sciences Po, is a spy. Joining Josette in Paris, the two women work for a German engineering firm, hiding in plain sight and procuring top-secret information for the SOE. The sinister overseer, Officer Keppler, is reason alone to step very carefully.

What sets this novel apart is the author’s perceptive portrayal of the camaraderie and friendship between the women – at the OSS, on the training ground, and amongst the Resistance fighters – as well as how quickly female bonds are made, and how they endure through terrible hardship. The second part of the novel resembles an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Anna’s strength of character is thoroughly believable, as is the fear which shadows her, but her impatience when she doesn’t receive a timely reply to her transmissions makes her humanly vulnerable. Healey weaves some poignant romance into her story, which serves to remind us how vital those connections were in such uncertain times, but it does not detract from the main theme―the incredible courage with which these women faced daily danger to help the war effort. Relying on copious research, Healey uses historical events and people in her story, including the Vichy French embassy break-in, and the French spy Amniarix, upon whom Josette’s character is based. Just when I think I’ve read all the WWII novels I want to, along comes another so convincingly written it’s impossible to put down.