She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and--despite her prosthetic leg--helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it. This is the story of Virginia Hall, the American spy who changed the course of World War II, from the author of Clementine.
Purnell’s account of Hall’s hectic, amphetamine-fuelled exploits never falters. It recalls Caroline Moorehead’s wonderful book, Village of Secrets, about defiance of the Nazis in Vichy France, but has an added touch of Ben Macintyre’s brio ... tells a redacted life. The erasures owe as much to Hall’s secretive and mystifying nature as to official censorship so it is a marvel that Purnell, who has previously written biographies of Boris Johnson and Clementine Churchill, has discovered so much. It is a pleasure to read a biography in which the author admires her subject so warmly. This might so easily have been a pernickety, fact-finding book, but instead it is a rousing tale of derring-do. Men, women and tomboys will all enjoy the courage and initiative of Virginia Hall.
... Sonia Purnell's A Woman of No Importance is a gripping take ... Purnell smooths a staggering cast and timeline into a brisk narrative. And though Hall's impact is astonishing, the book makes clear how many people a Resistance requires ... Stakes are rarely an issue in a book about WWII; its rhythms are a shorthand, and we've come to expect hairy near-misses, unlikely escapes, and devastating double agents. Still, Purnell finds fresh dread in the growing efficacy of surveillance, the Vichy regime's tactics, and propaganda campaigns ... Purnell's picture of a postwar world is a fractured, ethically muddy arena of conflicting operations, and we're left without much sense of what Hall thought of those assignments — some of which pitted her against factions she'd worked with during the war ... A very smooth read about a rocky life, A Woman of No Importance is a compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people — and a little resistance.
... a riveting account of Hall’s work as a ferociously courageous American spy, yet whose mother never quite forgave her for failing to marry a rich man ... Purnell’s research is impressive, with extensive footnotes and a lengthy bibliography. And good thing, because the work of spies such as Virginia — Purnell calls her Virginia — is mind-boggling ... Purnell writes with compelling energy and fine detail. Passages about German torturer Klaus Barbie are emotionally wrenching. She avoids romantic flights about wartime valor. She quietly conveys Resistance fighters’ frank acceptance that fighting for one’s country is not only worth their sweat, but their lives ... Purnell reminds how much history there is to tell.