The Book Boost welcomes author Soren Paul Petrek who is here to discuss what his recent research revealed about his novel Cold Lonely Courage.
Here's what he had to say...
RESEARCHING YOUR NOVEL
I learned more about a subject area that has fascinated me for years when I did my research for my novel, Cold Lonely Courage. While I had a decent working knowledge of the French Resistance in World War Two, I had no idea the vital importance women played.
I was shocked to learn that prior to the war; women did not have the right to vote in France. Due to the incredible acts of heroism, both through direct combat and behind the scenes there was little or no resistance to women’s suffrage following the war.
Most of the Resistance groups functioned as smaller independent units in an effort to avoid the capture of one leading to the destruction of many. Several of the more important units were headed by women. Their duties included acts of sabotage, assassination, the movement of weapons, intelligence the list goes on and on.
Initially I purchased several books on the topic of women in the Resistance. I carried that forth into direct internet research and discovered more and more depictions of true life stories, incredible things that both women in the French Resistance and their female counterparts in the British Special Operations Executive did. I discovered triumphs and tragedy, husbands and wives torn apart by war, true stories of torture, internment and death.
One particularly terrifying discovery was the destruction of the small town of Oradour sur Glane by the German SS just days after the Normandy invasion. The entire town, save for a couple incredibly fortunate villagers were killed. Machine gunned and burned alive, perhaps thought to be hiding pockets of resistance or captured Nazi gold. No one knows for sure. The slaughter was so brutal that the town has been left in its burned and decimated state as a perpetual memorial to the hundreds of men, women and children killed there.
Yet there are stories of victory in all that destruction. In one true story, two French school girls and a British agent replaced the axel grease in the undercarriages of hundreds of German rail cars, loaded with tanks on their way to Normandy. The grease was removed and replaced with a paste that became as hard as concrete and kept the badly needed armor from being transported to the front.
The research was fascinating and will always be a favored part of my writing experience.
A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for taking us on a journey into the past. Won't you tell us more about your novel?
An assassin born of death and violation is the most dangerous of all. Cold Lonely Courage tells her story.
The action begins during the German Blitzkrieg attack on France in the opening days of World War II. The heroine, Madeleine Toche races to the front to find her brother dying after his unit is destroyed as the Germans advance. Crushed, Madeleine returns his body to her parents.
In the months that follow, Madeleine is raped by a Nazi officer. Seeking revenge she kills him and flees to England to volunteer for duty with Britain's shadowy Special Operations Executive. Trained as an assassin she clandestinely returns to France with Captain Jack Teach a veteran of the SOE 'Dirty Tricks Department'. They find themselves in love but are torn apart by duty and the insurmountable odds of survival. Madeleine fights on terrorizing the murderous Nazi elite always only one step ahead of capture and torture.
Madeleine's story is raw and driven. There are no detours. I engage the base emotions of my readers. I want them to live the characters the way I did when I wrote them. This is not an ordinary World War II novel. Cold Lonely Courage tells the brutal truth about the violence people are capable of when called upon to defend themselves and their families. The courage of women in war is marginalized and given subordinate consideration in popular fiction. Many women don't read novels about war because of it. Cold Lonely Courage changes that.
More than three years later, Madeleine pushed her bicycle slowly down an alley towards the front entrance of a police station. She was acting on very recent intelligence and swift action was required. She didn’t like having to expose herself to enemy eyes, but the situation dictated it. She wore no disguise. She needed to appear as normal as possible and for the men to focus on her body, not her face. She could not disguise her beauty, and tried to utilize it to her advantage. There were too few clothes to choose from and the ones she’d chosen were worn and threadbare. Although the garments were loose, her looks captured the attention of the police officers loitering around the entrance. She hoped that the last thing the men would look at was her face.
She made sure that the clothing didn’t obscure her curves completely, positioning her body to ensure that they did not. She leaned the bicycle against a lamppost and collected a few loaves of bread and a wheel of cheese from the basket behind the seat. The loaves were irregular in shape but were mostly baguettes, partially wrapped in paper with the top halves sticking out.
She moved uncertainly, seemingly confused and frightened trying to appear subservient and nonthreatening. The men showed no concern for security, despite the fact that two of their more important masters were inside the station on an inspection. “Bonjour, mademoiselle, you are new. Where is Marc today?”
The closest of the officers called to her as she moved towards the door. “My uncle is ill today and cannot make his rounds,” She answered, making only brief eye contact with the policeman and smiling demurely, shrinking slightly into herself.
This is a shy one, the man thought. With looks like that perhaps she will not always be so. He admired her openly, and inwardly bemoaned his own lack of success with women. Half of them seemed to be afraid of him because of his position as a police officer working with the enemy, the Vichy government.
It wasn’t his fault France had fallen so quickly. In his mind, one did the best they could under the circumstances and followed orders. His situation had been vastly improved by his cooperation. He was better off now than before the war. His food and clothing were more than adequate. He was thriving under the occupation. He felt that reporting illegal activity was his duty. After all, he was a police officer and the Resistance were terrorists and subversives. They made life harder for everyone else. The war couldn’t last forever, and it didn’t seem like the Germans were going to leave France.
He sighed inwardly as he looked at her. In passing he thought about searching the bundle of bread and the small package the girl carried, but she seemed so young and insecure, she’d probably collapse in fright if he did so. “Let me get the door for you. I hope Marc remains ill for a while so that we may enjoy your company again.” The man smiled and looked over at his fellow officers who were only interested in Madeleine’s feminine charms. They made no move to search her deliveries.
“Thank you monsieur, I will be sure to tell my uncle of your kindness,” She almost whispered as she slid past him and into the hallway of the police station. As she entered she saw two leather overcoats hanging in the hallway. They bore the insignia of the Gestapo. The intelligence had been correct. A routine visit by the hated German secret police was underway.
As soon as she was out of sight of the men at the front of the building, the transformation in her demeanor was instant. She seemed to grow and harden, her limpidness replaced with iron. She moved swiftly towards the back of the building where the small kitchen was located. She walked past two offices along the corridor and heard voices coming from the one closest to the kitchen. They were distinctly German.
As she unloaded the bread onto a table she listened to see if a third voice came from the room. She moved slowly and with patience, knowing that for what she intended to do, patience and nerve beat bravado and recklessness every time. The men in the room were smoking, and thus would have at least one of their hands occupied. She could detect different odors of tobacco. One of them had a pipe. Their conversation was languid and unhurried. There was no excitement in their voices. Given the time of day, it was likely that these officers had eaten a good meal. Their movements would be slow.
Madeleine worked with her hands as she kept an eye on the front. She was aware of everything around her. Her senses heightened and became acute. She selected one of the thicker baguettes and tore open one end, revealing a small metal cylinder. She raised her skirt and took out a pistol that was bound to the inside of her thigh, a location few men felt comfortable searching under fairly routine circumstances. She quickly screwed the cylinder into the end and tucked the gun under the bread paper and carried it over to the office door behind which she heard the steady cadence of the men’s conversation.
She paused briefly, then gently pushed the door open and walked into the room holding the silenced weapon along her side so that it wouldn’t instantly be noticed. The officer seated at the desk turned only after she was fully into the room. Without hesitation she shot him squarely in the forehead. The other officer seated in front of the desk didn’t have time to register surprise. She turned and put a bullet through his throat and face in instant succession.
Turning back to the first officer she shot him a second time so there would be no mistake. Aside from the smell of gunpowder in the room, there had been little sound. Both men remained slumped in their chairs, surprise etched on their faces. Madeleine moved swiftly out of the room and closed the door behind her. With practiced efficiency she unscrewed the silencer and tucked it away inside her sweater. She placed the gun in her pocket. She moved back to the kitchen, opened a window and dropped a short distance to the pavement below. It was a market day, and although many things were scarce, the street was getting crowded.
She was well into the crowd and away before she heard the first shriek of a police whistle.
Soren Petrek is a practicing trial attorney with a passion for studying World War Two. He lived in France and England for years, listening to people's stories of personal sacrifice and struggle during the darkest years of the war. Cold Lonely Courage was inspired by the true story of a young Belgian woman who helped countless Jewish children escape from the terrors of the Nazi regime. Soren lives with his wife, Renee and sons, Max and Riley in central Minnesota. For more information, articles and links to purchase the novel, please visit my blog.