The Brass Compass by Ellen Butler
A beautiful American spy flees into the night. On her own, she must live by her wits to evade capture and make it to the safety of the Allied forces.
Lily Saint James grew up traveling the European continent, learning languages as she went. In 1938, her mother’s abrupt death brings her back home to Washington, D.C., and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lily comes to the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Her knowledge of German, French, and Italian makes her the perfect OSS Agent, and her quick thinking places her as a nanny in the household of an important German Army Colonel, where she is able to gather intelligence for the Allies. After her marketplace contact goes missing, she makes a late-night trip to her secondary contact only to find him under interrogation by the SS. When he commits suicide, she flees into the frigid winter night carrying false identification papers that are now dangerous and a mini film cartridge with vital strategic information. In order to survive, Lily must make it out of Germany, into the hands of Allied-controlled France, through a path fraught with peril.
EXCERPT: THE BRASS COMPASS
Sabotage. Seduction. Couture dresses with hidden pockets. All were techniques and tools used by female spies recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. These women were critical to Allied success and audiences have been thrilled by their exploits in novels and on the screen, yet their very real accomplishments have been ignored for generations.
This year the OSS, which was the precursor to the CIA, will celebrate its 75th anniversary, and in recognition of their contributions, Congress passed the Congressional Gold Medal Act. Just in time for that celebration The Brass Compass, a book set during WWII, will place one female spy in the spotlight.
The novel reveals the extreme dangers agents faced when Lily St. James, the heroine of The Brass Compass, parachutes behind enemy lines, destroys rail lines, and infiltrates a high-ranking Nazi household. The Brass Compass is the latest story to celebrate the uncompromising intelligence and composure displayed by real operatives. From Greta Garbo in the film “Mata Hari” to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, audiences are riveted by the tough-and-tender ways women approach espionage and how these fictions reflect reality.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor spurred President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create one overarching espionage office, formalizing it on June 13, 1942. Scrambling to cobble together an effective system, the OSS recruited without prejudice. Race, religion, gender, or formal education had no impact on ability. Like St. James, often the people who became field agents were bilingual having spent time living abroad. According to CIA historian Linda McCarthy, the war department knew that women excelled at infiltrating enemy networks and organizing resistance movements. In The Brass Compass, St. James calls on her training as well as her wits to fulfill a number of these roles, and like many of the agents who parachuted behind enemy lines in France, her life expectancy in the field is about six weeks.
Fortunately, OSS spies had a specially designed arsenal. They used single-shot Liberator pistols, button compasses, and escape maps printed on silk. Espionage equipment tailored for female spies included secret pockets, codes embedded in compact mirrors, and suicide pills disguised in jewelry. St. James makes use of false documents, hidden compartments and a tiny matchbox style camera invented by the OSS. Even with this specialized equipment, she must be clever or the tiniest slip might prove fatal.
By allowing women to utilize their natural talents and their specialized training, the OSS preserved freedom worldwide. On the 75th anniversary of the OSS, the program that spawned the CIA, the Navy Seals and the Special Forces will be lauded for the heroism and valor of its employees.
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About The Author:
Ellen Butler is an award-winning novelist writing critically acclaimed suspense thrillers, and sassy romance. The Brass Compass was inspired by the brave women who served in the OSS, British Special Operations Executive and French Resistance. Ellen is a member of The OSS Society and her fascination with WWII history originally piqued when her grandfather revealed his role as a cryptographer during the war. The Brass Compass is her debut into the historical fiction genre. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Policy, and her history includes a long list of writing for dry, but illuminating, professional newsletters and windy papers on public policy. She lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.