I’ve been into spy stories ever since I first saw the super-old black & white movie Mata Hari (1931!), starring Greta Garbo as the iconic femme fatale who supposedly seduced secrets out of soldiers during World War I and was eventually executed for being a German spy. The movie is definitely soaked in old-school Hollywood historical inaccuracy, but the real story is pretty fascinating, too. According to witness accounts, Mata Hari walked calmly into the muddy field where she was to be shot, refused to wear the customary blindfold, and blew a kiss to the firing squad right before they let her have it. Ever since then, historians have rehashed the facts, trying to separate truth and fiction. Was she guilty? Innocent? A double agent?
Mata Hari’s tale is just one of the many stories packed into Paul Janeckzo’s book The Dark Game: True Spy Stories. The author spins a quick history of espionage from the Revolutionary War into the modern era, dropping tons of cool details about secret identities and disguises, hidden messages, traitors, and high-tech spy gear. Did you know that George Washington was the leader of the first spy organization in the U.S.? Or that the Native American “Choctaw code-talkers” were some of the most crucial secret message-senders during the first World War? If you ever wanted to know more about phone-tapping, code-cracking, or the CIA, this is a book worth picking up.
If fiction is more your thing, check out Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This tale of World War II espionage is definitely one of my favorite books of the year. It’s about two young women–Maddie, a pilot, and Julie, a spy– who meet amid the terror and bravery of the war, share a few top secret missions, and become fast friends. The war drags on, the stakes get higher, and then Julie gets caught behind enemy lines and taken prisoner by the Gestapo. That’s when it becomes impossible to stop turning the pages. Grab a copy of Code Name Verity to find out what happens!
…& head to the library for more stories of spies– true and invented.