The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2021 – ‘The Imitation Game’ is the movie that introduced many people to the story of Bletchley Park during WWII. The group of ‘boffins’ and assorted geniuses at Bletchley included Alan Turing, who developed a computer that broke the Nazi military codes and likely helped shorten the war by several years. Bletchley Park is now a museum dedicated to those who served there during the war. As one of the most super secret military sites during the war, its denizens labored under the draconian constraints of the official secrets acts and it wasn’t until fifty years after the war that stories about Bletchley began to emerge, initially as books written by some of those who worked at BP.
Aside from ‘The Imitation Game’, which focused on Turing’s life, there’s also been the 2012-14 television series entitled ‘The Bletchley Circle’, a crime drama set in the early 1950’s in which a group of four female ex-code breakers from Bletchley work together to solve some murder mysteries.
It’s not surprising then, that Bletchley Park continues to entice writers to wander its labyrinth pathways. Kate Quinn’s novel, ‘The Rose Code’ is just such a book. Meg, an ambitious young woman from a poor family meets Osla, a society debutant, on their way to work at Bletchley. They become friends and, when billeted in the same house, discover Beth, a seemingly vacant girl, completely under the thumb of her tyrannical mother. But Meg and Osla discover that Beth has just the kind of mind for code breaking and pave the way for Beth to join the decoding group at Bletchley, where she comes to life as she discovers her true genius.
Keeping secrets leads to a death that drives the three friends apart. And there’s a serpent lurking in Bletchley; someone who is selling information to the Russians. Beth stumbles onto the fact when she decodes an intricate message aimed at the traitor. Before she can reveal her findings, Beth is arrested, finds herself labeled crazy and is sent to a mental institution where she languishes past the end of the war. Desperate to warn MI5 of the traitor in their midst, Beth slips a coded message to her two former friends, attempting to get their help. Things heat up considerably when Beth finds out she has been slated for a lobotomy and her only hope is that Meg and Osla will come to her rescue.
This is a well-crafted book with a swift pace and memorable characters, several of whom are based on real people working at Bletchley during the war. Even if you never watched ‘The Imitation Game’ there’s lots in this novel to give satisfaction.