The killing code by Ellie Marney

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Wow! Ellie Marney has done it again. I read The killing code in one sitting, drawn into the lives of four young women who are Government girls, working as code breakers in Washington in World War 2. Kit Sutherland, once a maid, has assumed the identity of her former employer, and is one of the code breakers. When her best friend Dottie does not come home from a dance she enlists the help of Moya, glamorous supervisor of the girls, to find out what has happened. She discovers Dottie drugged, but even more horrific, finds the body of another young woman who has been murdered. Determined to uncover the identity of the killer, she joins forces with Dottie, Moya and Violet, a young woman from the segregated section of the facility and they use all their code breaking powers and intelligence to bring the killer to justice. All the while Kit must keep the secret of her identity concealed, while hiding her attraction to Moya.

Marney has written a fascinating murder mystery with themes of feminism, racism, class inequality and queer romance all blended smoothly into the story. The friendship of the four girls stands out and their ability to help each other out in times of crisis and to cooperate together to solve the identity of a serial killer is a highlight of the book.

I love the historical background of the story. It is fascinating to read about Arlington House and to discover that it was a real place where young women played a very important role in deciphering enemy codes, leading to many lives being saved in World War 2. At the beginning of each chapter is a quote about the decoding process from women who worked there at the time. It is evident that Marney spent a great deal of time researching the lives of these women, their clothes, and how they lived and worked together, and it certainly has made this a stand-out read for me. Marney has also included two puzzles for those who enjoy codebreaking at the end of her Author’s Note. An interview with her can be found here. 

Fans of the Bletchley Park series and The enigma game by Elizabeth Wein will love the code breaking aspects of The killing code, while readers who enjoy unravelling clues may like to read the Inheritance games series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and The Westing game by Ellen Raskin. And of course all those fans of mysteries like A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson will delight in this well told, intriguing thriller. Teacher’s notes are available.

Themes: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Mystery, LGBT.

Pat Pledger