When I first began toying with the idea of writing a new historical mystery series based around a woman who had served in the British Secret Service during the Great War, I was concerned I wouldn’t find much factual basis to craft my heroine from. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Careful digging brought to light the thousands of women who went to work for the various intelligence gathering agencies in Britain during World War I. They served at the headquarters in London, in various field offices across the globe, and even behind enemy lines in the German-occupied areas as part of several intelligence gathering networks connected with the British War Office. These brave women served with great distinction and with utmost secrecy, and many of their contributions are still widely unknown.
Within Britain, women were employed by the Directorate of Military Operations (DMI), as well as the intelligence sections of the Foreign Office, Admiralty, and Army. They operated as secretaries, typists, clerks, translators, messengers, historians, switchboard operators, supervisors, and more. More specifically, they worked in postal censorship, helped draft propaganda, and designed paperwork networks for tracking spies and foreign intelligence.
In fact, one division of the DMI was staffed almost exclusively by women. MI5, the branch in charge of counterespionage, maintained a massive registry of suspects and information regarding foreigners within the UK and any British citizens with ties to the enemy, no matter how seemingly insignificant. This massive undertaking was staffed by more than six-hundred well-educated women.
In Room 40 of the Old Admiralty Building, where many of the cryptographers worked during the war for Naval Intelligence, they performed secretarial tasks and even assisting with decoding. While in the foreign division of the DMI—a division which would eventually morph into MI6—women served as clerks, typists, and translators—organizing information and helping draw connections between seemingly disparate data. Some of these women were also sent abroad to help staff the espionage sections of British offices in neutral and allied countries. It was as part of this foreign division that I decided my fictional heroine, Verity Kent, had served during the war.
Another distinction that set these positions apart from other work open to women during the war was the fact that many of these intelligence-gathering organizations employed married women, where other war-time agencies would not. Women in intelligence operations were also paid more than other positions, though by no means at an equal rate to their male counterparts, despite undertaking many of the same risks.
Learning about these female operatives left me with a burning desire to make their incredible contributions known. Like Verity, these women were intelligent, highly capable, adventurous, and intrepid. They felt compelled to do their part to help Britain win the war—whatever that part may be—and bring as many of their soldiers home safely as possible. They threw their all into every challenge they faced, fiercely guarding their secrets, even keeping the truth about the true role they played from family and spouses.
And all the while they watched the death tolls mount, losing countless friends and loved ones. They were under the same tremendous strain as the rest of the country, and yet they stifled their grief and continued to serve for the sake of the living. It’s partly this juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability that makes them so fascinating.
There has been a recent surge of interest in women who served in wartime positions traditionally thought of as belonging to men. I think this is because women are tired of hearing that their contributions to history don’t matter, of being told to stop pushing ourselves forward and sit quietly in the background. We’re tired of letting men write the history books. Instinctively, we know we’ve always been there somewhere in the annals of the past, hidden in the spaces between paragraphs of men’s exploits, because whenever conflict or crises arise, women always step forward to do their bit, to contribute whatever is needed. It’s been the same for time immortal. And we want to know how women in the past have filled those voids and positions. We want to learn from them and honor them, to feel pride in their accomplishments. We’re no longer content for them to be forced to dwell in the cracks of history when they can serve as inspiration to us all.
In 1919 England, in the shadow of The Great War, many look to the spirit world for answers. But it will take an all too earthbound intrigue to draw in the discerning heroine of Anna Lee Huber’s latest mystery . . .
It’s not that Verity Kent doesn’t sympathize with those eager to make contact with lost loved ones. After all, she once believed herself a war widow. But now that she’s discovered Sidney is very much alive, Verity is having enough trouble connecting with her estranged husband, never mind the dead. Still, at a friend’s behest, Verity attends a séance, where she encounters the man who still looms between her and Sidney—and a medium who channels a woman Verity once worked with in the Secret Service. Refusing to believe her former fellow spy is dead, Verity is determined to uncover the source of the spiritualist’s top secret revelation.
Then the medium is murdered—and Verity’s investigation is suddenly thwarted. Even Secret Service agents she once trusted turn their backs on her. Undaunted, Verity heads to war-torn Belgium, with Sidney by her side. But as they draw ever closer to the danger, Verity wonders if she’s about to learn the true meaning of till death do us part . . .
Praise for This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber
“Engrossing . . . Evocative historical details complement the well-drawn characters. The intricate plot builds to a surprising conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly
“A richly detailed period mystery, This Side of Murder is sure to turn you into a true Verity Kent fan (if you aren’t one already.)” – Bustle.com
“Suspenseful, atmospheric, and beautifully written.” –-Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames Mysteries “A captivating murder mystery told with flair and panache!” – Fresh Fiction
“Huber paints a compelling portrait of the aftermath of World War I, and show the readers how devastating the war was for everyone in England . . . I am looking forward to reading many more of Verity Kent’s adventures.”—Historical Novel Society
“A smashing and engrossing tale of deceit, murder and betrayal set just after World War I. . . . Anna Lee Huber has crafted a truly captivating mystery here.” —All About Romance
Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, the Verity Kent Mysteries, and the Gothic Myths series. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family. Her next novel, Treacherous is the Night, Verity Kent Book 2, releases on September 25th, 2018. Visit her online at www.annaleehuber.com.