The Rose Code - Kate Quinn (Harper Collins, $32.99)
Reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
A wartime debutante, a determined social climber, a repressed daughter. Three women meet and share a single goal — to be a cog in the machine that cracks German codes at Bletchley Park.
Osla is a beautiful Canadian socialite, determined to do her bit. Boarding a train to an unknown, secret destination, she meets tall, fierce Mab whose East London vowels she is desperate to suppress in order to carve out a future for herself and her baby sister. They are billeted with a family whose mother rules the roost with her Bible and try to befriend quiet, mousy Beth, who lacks any self-esteem, but is curiously good at crosswords.
Osla and Mab, chalk and cheese, get Beth and her fine brain a job at Bletchley Park and she soon realises there can be much more to her life than running around after Mother.
The girls have a social life somewhere amid the brain breaking work — they are useful, and happy. But by the end of the war, one of them will be incarcerated in a lunatic asylum and they will each have betrayed the other.
What a fabulous ride this story is! Osla's vocabulary is simply spiffing – she's constantly flirting, joking and describing things as "topping". The descriptions of her dresses are to die for and her wartime boyfriend is none other than Prince Philip of Greece. Seeing as we all know how that turned out it's obvious that things aren't all going to be rosy for Osla.
Mab achieves her goal of netting a husband and there's a wonderful storyline in this – as the novel thrillingly moves between during and post war, we try desperately to guess which Bletchley boffin he might be.
The Rose Code is a big book at 592 pages but romps along at a terrific pace. Spies, codebreakers, geniuses, Prince Philip, Bletchley Park, intrigue, tragedy, romance, bombs. Absolutely topping!