The Blurb (from Goodreads):
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.
1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter--the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger--and their true enemy--closer...
Kate Quinn has become one of my favourite writers in the last few years. Her historical novels have strong narrative drive, characters who feel real, and fascinating plot premises. The Rose Code may well be her best book yet, and that’s very high praise indeed as I loved her earlier World War II novels.
It might be because her latest is set amongst female code breakers in Bletchley Park, a subject that has fascinated me for a long time (I actually have a scene set there in my latest work-in-progress!) I’ve always loved secret codes and invisible ink and hidden messages, and so The Rose Code really struck a spark with me.
In brief, the book tells the story of three close friends who work together at the top-secret country estate, the nature of their work kept hidden from anyone outside the facility. Each of the three women are very different, but their friendship is deep and real, forged by the intensity of the war and the difficulty of their tasks. However, something happens to smash their friendship – and one of them ends up committed to a mental asylum. We don’t know what that something is – a large part of the suspense of the novel is wondering what it could possibly be. The story moves back and forth in time, between the early 1940s when the three young women first meet and become friends, to 1947 when the three women are now all enemies and a letter written in secret code arrives saying ‘help me’.
It’s a humdinger of a story! One of the best I’ve read this year.
You might also like to read my review of The Huntress by Kate Quinn: