The Rose Code

Reviewed by Richard Carlson

16 October 2021

The Rose Code coverThe Rose Code is a story set in 1947, just before the Royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip, and jumps back to 1940, where the story begins. Three women, tied together by a high wartime secret, are brought back together to solve a huge mystery.

The Bletchley Park mansion housed the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) whose employees were able to break the German Enigma codes, as well as several other code types.

From the book jacket:

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 an old wound 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 had 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 form the rose code brings danger—and their true enemy—closer.

For reasons of secrecy, code breakers at GC&CS were very rarely informed of the operational effects of their work, but their impact on the Battle of Cape Matapan was an exception. A few weeks after the end of the battle, Admiral Cunningham dropped into Bletchley Park to congratulate “Dilly” and his girls, with a positive impact on morale. Mavis Batey, one of the code breakers remembers: “Our sense of elation knew no bounds when Cunningham himself came down in person to thank and congratulate us.” Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, stated: “Tell Dilly that we have won a great victory in the Mediterranean and it is entirely due to his girls.”

The book contains 15 pages of the author’s notes in which she explains the research she did to write the fictional account. It also includes a list of 25 nonfiction books about Bletchley Park and movies made about Bletchley with photos of Bletchley Park, the British Bombe machine and an Enigma machine.

I found reading was somewhat slow in the beginning, but after two chapters, it picked up and became a page-turner. A very good read.

Publishing Information

““The Rose Code – A Novel”, by Kate Quinn, 2021. ISBN 978-0-06-305941-2 Hardcover. Harper Collins Publication, 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. 621 pages.