Code Name Helene [Book Review]

April 24, 2020

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhom (coveer)

Genre/Categories/Setting: Biographical Historical Fiction, World War 11, French Resistance Movement, France

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My Summary:

Real-life socialite spy, Nancy Wake…

Nancy Wake in 1945

Image Source: Wikipedia

Told in multiple timelines, Code Name Hélène is the thrilling and intense story of real-life socialite spy, Nancy Wake. Helene is only one of her four code names. When Nancy Wake first meets the love of her life, wealthy Henri Fiocca, in 1936, she is a freelance reporter and an Australian ex-pat living in Paris. As the Germans invade France, she begins her spy career by using her socialite status to smuggle documents and people across borders. Eventually, she is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. At this time she is trained for Special Operations by the British and returns to France to work in the French Resistance Movement. Known for her innovative thinking and leadership, profanity, and red lipstick, she secures weapons from the allied forces for the French Resistance fighters. This is complicated because she is also a hunted woman with a bounty on her head.

My Thoughts:

Reasons to Read It!

  • Code Name Hélène is an intense, suspenseful, thrilling, and intrigue-filled read.
  • Hélène has superhero qualities.
  • Hélène is a one-of-a-kind real-life spy, an inspirational leader, and an amazingly strong woman who won’t go to work without her trademark red lipstick.
  • It’s a page-turner.
  • Code Name Hélène lives up to the hype.
  • Code Name Hélène is complex, historically rich, well-written, and intricately constructed.
  • The story leaves room for a lovely romance.
  • It’s by the author of I Was Anastasia.

a tube of red lipstick

Trigger Warnings and Content Considerations:

Because Code Name Hélène is set during WW11 and the French Resistance Movement, readers need to be prepared that this is an intense read (at least it was for me!). Characteristic of the real-life Nancy Wake, there is a great deal of profanity.  In addition, the narrative includes at least two graphic and descriptive torture scenes and a couple of executions. If this were a movie, it would be rated R.


I’m recommending Code Name Hélène for fans of fast-paced, suspenseful, and gritty historical fiction who are OK with intense situations and graphic descriptions and for readers who make it their mission to read everything Ariel Lawhon writes.

My Rating: 4.5  Stars

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Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon (cover)

Code Name Hélène Information

Meet the Author, Ariel Lawhon

Author, Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is a critically acclaimed author of historical fiction. She is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, Indie Next, One Book One County, Costco, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, a black Lab, and a deranged Siamese cat. She splits her time between the grocery store and the baseball field.

You might enjoy the interview with Ariel Lawhon found on this page (scroll down).


Is Code Name Hélène on your TBR or have you read it?


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    • Well…..maybe it’s just me! I’m a fairly sensitive reader. 80% of the story is fine! It’s certainly well written, intriguing, and fast paced! It’s received many excellent reviews. There are some passages I needed to skim. Let me know how it goes!

      • I tend to be sensitive, for instance “ The Kitchen House” is a book I wish I could unread.
        I loved The Huntress so I will definitely give this a try

      • It’s close to being on par with Huntress I think. Both are so well written! Just be prepared to skim a few sections! I hope it works for you! I always believe in erring on the side of content warnings! I knew about the profanity going in so I was prepared. The violence caught me a bit off guard. But I think it’s easier if you are prepared!

  1. I think you know that I gave this a full 5/5 stars! Lawhon is a marvelous writer. Have you read “The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress” or “Flight of Dreams”? They’re also amazing!

    • Yes, Lawhon is impressive! I’m especially impressed with her ability to structure and merge timelines. The only other title I’ve read is Anastasia.

  2. I’m so looking forward to reading this one. I listened to Lawhon’s interview with Anne Bogel just this morning, and she addressed both the profanity and the torture scenes so I was already prepared for that. She said exactly what you did about trying to skim the torture parts, and also that she knew some of her readers were sensitive to profanity, but it was such a part of what Nancy Wake was known for that she couldn’t leave it out. In fact, she said she even toned it down some to try to make it more palatable. Great review, Carol. Completely reinforces what I heard this morning.

  3. This is another book I waffled on, but after reading your review, I am adding this one to my TBR. I do enjoy reading about real life heroes.

    • She’s quite a woman! It’s a gritty page turner….with just a few scenes I needed to skim….but worth the read I think!

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