America’s first and greatest spy of the Second World War was a woman with a wooden leg from Baltimore named Virginia Hall.
Her remarkable story of courage, set against the backdrop of Nazi cruelty in World War II France, is brought to life in my novel, Hall of Mirrors.
Photo courtesy of Lorna Catling
Virginia Hall lost a portion of her left leg in a hunting accident and quit the US State Department in disgust after being denied advancement because of her disability. When Paris fell to the Nazis, Virginia escaped to London–also under siege and in ruins from German aerial attack. The British cause seemed lost but Churchill had plans to “set Europe ablaze,” with spies and saboteurs, and Virginia was recruited by British Intelligence to become the Allies’ first secret agent to live behind enemy lines in Vichy France.
Once in-place, Virginia developed an extensive network of spies, led jailbreaks and organized resistance forces, but ultimately was betrayed by someone she trusted. As Klaus Barbie (the Gestapo’s “Butcher of Lyon”) closed in, her only avenue of escape in the winter of 1942 was across the snow-capped Pyrenees to freedom in Spain.
Despite surviving the harrowing ordeal with her wooden leg she nicknamed “Cuthbert,” Virginia demanded to go back to France. London refused, calling it a suicide mission. The Gestapo was still hunting her, they said, but Hall, undeterred, did go back, this time with America’s new espionage organization, the OSS, on the eve of the D-Day invasion.
Hall of Mirrors, my debut novel, is written in the voice of Virginia Hall. The book follows the arc of her heroic life and relies on extensive research and insights gained during my 30-year career with CIA. (Available spring 2019)
For more insight into this amazing woman visit the Virginia Hall blog on this website . . .
Read about my debut novel Hall of Mirrors in the Washington Post
“She was a legendary spy. He worked for three CIA directors. Now he’s writing a novel in her voice.”
—Washington Post, Dec 29, 2017
Read my Interview with the New York Post
As a former analyst and writer for CIA, I’ve long been captivated by Virginia Hall’s heroic story. I traveled to France, walked in Virginia’s footsteps, and discovered her escape route over the rugged Pyrenees. My story, “A Climb to Freedom,” was featured in Studies in Intelligence—CIA’s premier journal for intelligence professionals.
Elan Magazine—Art in the First Person: A Four-Part Series on Virginia Hall
America’s Greatest World War II Spy: Part I
Élan May 2018
Flight Across the Pyrenees: Part 3
Élan July 2018
A Spy to the End: Part 4
Élan August 2018
Voices from the Station: The Evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon
Proud to have edited this piece that shed light on an important event in our country’s history. It’s a compelling story, not well known, and is dedicated to those who stayed to the end and our friends who didn’t make it out in time. Recently reviewed and released on the Agency’s website.