Lady Codebreaker by K.D. Alden: 4.5****

A highly enjoyable novel, loosely based upon the life and careers of William Friedman, and his wife Elizabeth Smart Friedman. This gives us a wonderful insight into the inner workings of cryptology in America from some early stages prior to World War I. Prior to that our main characters, Grace, and Robert Feldman first met at the Riverbanks Laboratory in Illinois. Many people don’t realize that Riverbanks was one of the great research centers back in the 1910’s and they conducted numerous experiments as well as getting into the field of cryptology. As a matter fact, our protagonist, Grace, was hired to work on the Baconian theory that it was actually Francis Bacon who wrote the works of Shakespeare, and that Bacon had left clues to that which could be seen in the original Shakespeare portfolios. Eventually, Grace did not believe in what she was doing and was going to be fired, but prior to her leaving she was hired to start working on decoding ciphers, and the expanding world of cryptology. The book introduced us to many of the American greats in the field, as well as some of the most outstanding and diabolical codes that have yet to be broken, including the infamous Beale cipher which supposedly was a treasure map. It’s a fascinating book and I found myself doing Internet searches as I was reading because I was unaware of some of these people as well as the history of ciphers.

Eventually, Grace and Robert get married and move to Washington DC where they begin working for the US government in different positions. This made it very difficult on the marriage since they worked in different capacities in different areas and could not talk about their work even to each other. Before we know it, the United States has entered World War I and now Grace is leading a team that includes many women as they struggle to uncover the secrets of the German codes, something they will eventually do successfully. You also see that there is ambition and jealousy within this team and that as team leader Grace tries your best to keep everything on an even keel.
Once World War I has ended the next thing you know Grace begins to work with the Coast Guard during the era of prohibition. There are some wonderful stories about actual events during this time. Author KD Alden does a marvelous job pointing out the difficulties as well as the triumphs that Grace and her team will encounter during prohibition. The book also gets into codebreaking durimg World War II. it is a fascinating book filled with believable characters, with a plot that doesn’t veer too much from reality, and made me want to continue reading into the wee hours of the morning. We also are privys to some of the feminine and marital issues that Grace encountered, including her husband two mental breakdowns, and a hateful mother-in-law, who most likely gave Grace an improper recipe for Apple Kugel. The backbiting by that woman was amazing!
If there was one negative for me, it was the fact that Grace really seems to exhibit a strong dislike for men in general, and every time a man says something to her, Grace we get to read her innermost thoughts. It all gets a bit, tiring when she is upset that men are vast majority of airline passengers on a flight from Washington to California. Who cares? But for Grace, she was an early feminist and she fought long and hard for her recognition, her teams recognition, and for her country. All in all a highly impressive work that helps us understand that not every Codebreaker came from Bletchley Park, and there were others here in the United States that were doing their share to break the codes during World War II. Finally, the most impressive portion of the book had to deal with the situation in South America during World War II, and the fact that the Germans were truly trying to overthrow governments, had secret spy networks, and we’re doing everything to try and wreak havoc upon the United States and bring the war to the continental US. The history in this book is outstanding, and this is one book that I think everyone should read to appreciate the efforts of these women, and men, who helped us win all these battles in World War I, against the rumrunners and gangsters, and finally in World War II. I give this book a 4.5 star rating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top