By Kate QuinnKate Quinn’s latest World War II novel is set in Bletchley Park, Britain’s famed code-breaking center.
For Osla Kendall, Mab Churt and Beth Finch, Bletchley offers a way to contribute to the war effort using talents previously rarely appreciated.
Osla is a debutante who wants to be recognized for her brains as well as her beauty. With a finishing school education and an excellent command of German, she translates previously coded messages.
Mab wants to rise above her impoverished Shoreditch background. She taught herself to speak and dress properly and earned her way through secretarial school. She does clerical and administrative functions at Bletchley Park.
Beth is a town girl, born and raised in Bletchley. Held tightly under her controlling mother’s thumb, she never imagined she could be a code-breaker until Osla recognizes her talent for crossword- and puzzle- solving and recommends her for a job at Bletchley.
But in time, Bletchley’s world of secrets, some told and some withheld, create an explosive betrayal between the three friends.
Now, two years after the end of the war, Beth has been committed to a sanitarium. She knows from code she was working on before her commitment that there was a traitor selling secrets at Bletchley. But without the help of Osla and Mab, she can’t finish breaking the hidden piece of code to prove the traitor’s identity. Can her two former friends set aside old grievances long enough to identify the traitor?
Quinn tells her story on dual timelines. One layer of the story is told in November of 1947 as the days countdown to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip Nov. 20, 1947. The other is set in the early days of the war as Osla, Mab and Beth settle in to work at Bletchley.
This is a fascinating look at Bletchley from the inside. Quinn based many of her characters on real people: Osla is a fictionalized version of Osla Benning, a Bletchley translator and Prince Philip’s long-time war-time girlfriend. Beth is a composite of a nameless codebreaker who supposedly had a nervous breakdown after her love affair with a married Bletchley colleague collapsed and Mavis Lever, one of Bletchley’s star cryptoanalysts. One of a pair of effervescent twins, Valerie Glassborow, is the Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother.
THE ROSE CODE is a richer, more complex story than Quinn’s earlier books, THE ALICE NETWORK and THE HUNTRESS. Embedded in it is a good mystery and an entertaining look at history. For more on women at Bletchley Park, you might want to read Quinn’s article, “Cipher Girls: The Women Who Cracked Hitler’s Codes.”
If you are a fan of novels about women who served in combat, you might also want to check out THE LIGHT OVER LONDON by Julia Kelly or DAUGHTERS OF THE NIGHT SKY by Aimie Runyan.
About the Author: Kate Quinn
Kate Quinn writes historical fiction. She has written a series about ancient Rome, two books set in the Italian Renaissance and three books — THE ALICE NETWORK (2017), THE HUNTRESS (2019) and now THE ROSE CODE (2021) set in the 20th century.
A native of Southern California, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice at Boston University. She and her husband now live in San Diego with three rescue dogs.