Awarded four stars on Goodreads, but that’s a bit of a gift. 3.5 would be more on target. Despite all the attention this book is receiving, I found it TOO long at 656 pages.
THE ROSE CODE has a lot going for it. It’s well-researched World War II era historical fiction about skilled British citizens recruited to a remote mansion to try to break enemy codes. Their top secret efforts (with people like mathematician Alan Turing and author Ian Fleming) and ultimate success breaking the Enigma machine played a big role in the eventual Allied victory. Sounds good, right?
Like many contemporary historical novels, this one takes place in two time periods. It begins in 1947, days before the wedding of then Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip of Greece, with an entire country joyfully celebrating, especially following seven dark years of war, bombings, death, and rationing.
Beth Finch, confined to a mental hospital, sends out a desperate plea for help to two former friends.
• One is upper-class Canadian Osla Kendall, who also happens to be Prince Phillip’s former girlfriend.
• The second is Mab Churt, a working class woman with secrets who has recently married and produced twins.
Though these three women are now estranged, they are still strangely bound by the secret war-time work they did together at famed Bletchley Park.
Through flashbacks we spend most of the first half of the book earlier in the 1940s learning about their home lives, war work (amid rampant sexism), quirky co-workers, romances, and suspicions about who can be trusted and who can’t. But while this part of the book focused on critical intelligence work, I found the pace of the story beginning to slow (maybe too much detail about the ways codes were actually analyzed and broken), even becoming tedious. So much so that I nearly gave the book up.
Then about 60% of the way through the book, the pace dramatically picks up. Is there a traitor at Bletchley Park? After swearing a government oath of secrecy, can these three women still share bits of information with each other? What might happen if they do? What happens when they don’t?
Once the war ends, the book then returns to 1947 and picks up again with Beth’s plea for help, with events leading to an increasingly suspenseful finish. I do recommend the book for those, like me, fascinated with World War II and interested in gaining a glimpse into those sometimes strange individuals whose unique intelligence helped win a war.
More about the author, Kate Quinn.
You may be interested in my review of another book by Quinn, THE ALICE NETWORK.