Time for a historical fiction murder mystery (with some clever code breaking on the way).
I’ve loved so many of Ellie Marney’s previous books, like her Australian Sherlock series Every Breath, and also White Night and None Shall Sleep! So was definitely keen to try this latest thriller. This one is set against the backdrop of WWII in the USA, where a group of young women live in a repurposed school as they listen to Japanese coded messages and try to break them for the war effort. But other girls who work for the government keep turning up dead. A serial killer is on the loose. This has a big mystery thriller element and will keep you guessing as you follow the clues along side the main characters.
The historical aspect was fascinating — and very well researched, you can instantly tell! All the 1940s vibes and styles. I could totally picture this as a movie, actually, and would be here to watch it. 😂🙌🏻 I also cannot personally fathom breaking a code of numbers (in a different language!?!) when I can’t even read my own handwriting back, so massive respect to these women in that time.
We have two narrators for this tale: Kit Sutherland and Moya Kershaw. Kit starts off the book as a maid for a well-to-do young lady who is very ill…and when her employer dies she tells Kit to take her things. Her trunk of clothes. Her papers. Her name. Go make a life for yourself. So Kit goes from a literal nobody working-class maid to an impersonator and, with people thinking she’s this well-educated girl from the school, they hire her for the war effort. (I did suspend a bit of disbelief that they hired her instantly just knowing she did cross-word-puzzles but hey.) When the murders start, Kit and Moya team up with their friend Dottie to figure out who the killer is, and Violet ends up joining the ranks later because the police refuse to look into the recent murder of a Black girl even though she too fits the serial killer’s MO. Kit, Moya and Dottie are white, and Violet is Black, and the book does talk about segregation in that time and a lot of the terrible things Violet was forced to endure. Violet was probably my favourite character, and I also liked Kit’s gentle perseverance and quietly steadfast attitude. Moya was clever and deadly sharp and [chefs kiss] someone to watch. Dottie was the silly/fun one. So the four of them made a great team.
There is also a lovely romance between Moya and Kit. Since it’s the 1940s, they’re obviously pretty lowkey and hidden about their budding relationship, but there’s no queer angst or harassment in the book.
Okay so THE MYSTERY ASPECT. You know I live for a good thriller. I did really like how this was about the early days of criminal profiling, and the girls’ are doing sleuth work + government work, so like, am feeling exhausted for them. I would say it’s more about the murder mystery than the code breaking aspect. And I have to admit I did guess the killer quite early….so perhaps I am Sherlock 😩👌🏻. The girls made a few jumps in logic that came out of nowhere, but it was great to follow along with their successes and fails on the case.
Definitely pick this one up if you’re a fan of historical thrillers with clever women group dynamics, sapphic romances, and murder investigations!
Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the review copy!
Title: The Killing Code
Author: Ellie Marney
Date Published: 20 September 2022
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Purchase: Book Depository, Dymocks
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A young codebreaker at Arlington Hall – the secret WWII Signals Intelligence unit in Washington DC – joins forces with other female codebreakers to hunt a murderer who is killing US government girls. Another page-turning YA thriller from the author of None Shall Sleep, perfect for fans of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.
‘Miss Sutherland … what would you say if I told you I might be able to offer you a job helping the war effort?’
1943. World War II is raging across Europe and on the Pacific front. Kit Sutherland is hiding a huge secret when she is unexpectedly recruited to work as a young codebreaker at Arlington Hall, a US Signals Intelligence facility.
When Kit’s roommate doesn’t return home from a dance, it sparks a search that ends in a gruesome discovery. And soon it turns into a horrifying pattern: Government girls are being murdered in Washington, DC.
Kit joins forces with three other girl codebreakers, Dottie, Moya and Violet, and as they work to crack the killer’s code, two things become terrifyingly clear: the murderer they’re hunting is getting closer every moment … and Kit’s own secret could put her in more jeopardy than she ever imagined.