By Ellie Marney
Publisher/Year: Allen and Unwin/2022
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.
Reviewer: Narrelle Harris
Ellie Marney’s skills as a writer of superb crime fiction with fascinating settings, well-crafted characters, deft twists and a cracking pace are all on display in her latest adult crime novel, The Killing Code. It’s set in Arlington Hall, America’s code-breaking HQ during World War II, where thousands of women worked together in US Signals Intelligence.
In June 1942, the Arlington Hall girls’ school is closing down to make way for the war effort. Just as the school is closing – just as she’s dying – wealthy but sickly schoolgirl Katherine Sutherland gives her nurse, maid and companion Kathleen Hopper a dangerous and irresistible gift: her own identity. By using Katherine’s birth certificate and papers, Kathleen (Kit) has a chance to use her intellect and change her stars. By the end of the first chapter, she has seized her moment and joined the ranks of the code-breaking women of Arlington Hall.
We next see Kit in March 1943 in the Arlington workroom, leading a collaborative team of her colleagues in successfully cracking some coded communications. We see how far she’s come, but how much she still fears discovery as she. She has other secrets too – chiefly her attraction to Moya Kershaw.
Of course, this is a murder mystery about people working with ciphers, so Kit isn’t the only one who fits the theme. When Kit discovers the first murder victim, and then later learns that the government girl she found was in fact the second victim, the themes of secrets, overlooked talents, forbidden romance and the dangers of impersonating dead people having taken an oath about official secrets coalesce.
The reader isn’t only swept up in the awful puzzle of who is slaughtering these women, but in how that investigation will affect Kit and her friends. Her friends include Violet, a Black girl who knew about the first victim; another Black girl, Moya, Kit’s crush; and Dottie, Kit’s roommate. Their comradery, courage and sharp intelligence are the backbone of the novel, which addresses attitudes to how some viewed women’s roles in wartime, towards people of different classes and races, and towards ideas of love and friendship.
Marney sets a cracking pace from the start, and that pace pushes relentlessly on through the dangers of a serial killer on the hunt and the devastating consequences for Kit if her true identity is revealed. It’s a joy to watch Kit and her friends bring their code-cracking skills to uncovering the nature and identity of the killer, while their trust and support of one another is put to various tests.
The Killing Code is exciting, intriguing, delightful and very satisfying.