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Janice Hallett on Her Favourite Code-Cracking Books

Posted on 7th January 2022 by Mark Skinner

Few volumes make the kind of impact on both our booksellers and the book-buying public as Janice Hallett's immaculately constructed debut crime novel The Appeal. Shortlisted for 2021's Waterstones Book of the Year and our biggest selling Thriller of the Month ever, the audacious and original whodunit was the breakout publishing success story of last year. Now Janice Hallett returns with a fresh fiendish mystery that our booksellers can't stop raving about. A complex, unputdownable story of secret ciphers and missing teachers, The Twyford Code looks set to repeat the phenomenal success of The Appeal - and possibly even surpass it. In this exclusive piece, Janice takes a look at code-cracking in both fiction and non-fiction.     

Enigma by Robert Harris

Where better to start than German encoding equipment that confounded the Allies during World War Two? When the cryptoanalysts at Bletchley Park cracked this particular code, the breakthrough was so significant the Enigma story has endured ever since. For instance, Robert Harris’s nail-biting novel Enigma super-imposes a fictional espionage storyline over the facts. Troubled codebreaker Tom Jericho must work fast to unearth a traitor at Bletchley Park, before U-boats discover an American supply fleet en route to Britain. But if you fancy exploring the factual side of Enigma and some lesser-known aspects behind the story…

£8.99
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A blistering wartime thriller based on the real-life espionage work at Bletchley Park, Enigma finds a talented codebreaker sensing a spy amongst his colleagues when his girlfriend goes missing.
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Codebreaker Girls: A Secret Life at Bletchley Park by Jan Slimming

As 75% of the workforce at Bletchley Park were women, Jan Slimming’s book, in which she explores the secret work undertaken there by her own mother, is a long-overdue must-read. It captures the harsh realities of life for those who spent the war in less lauded, yet equally important, secret roles. Their existence must have felt very far from heroic at the time, and compared to the high-profile codebreakers, they’ve been largely disregarded ever since.

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By turns riveting and poignant, Slimming's investigation into her mother's past as a Bletchley Park codebreaker is a fascinating insight into the extraordinary demands made on ordinary people during wartime as well as the secrets they are forced to keep for decades afterwards.
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Enigma: The Battle for the Code by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore 

Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s 2017 book also looks at lesser known, uncelebrated heroes who nonetheless played a pivotal role in the Enigma story, some without ever setting foot in Bletchley Park. Here we are invited to consider the bravery and sacrifice of the spies who went behind enemy lines to steal code books from top German officials. Without them, the cryptoanalysts may not have cracked the code in time.

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The definitive account of Bletchley Park's heroics during World War II, Sebag-Montefiore's classic volume highlights not only the brilliance of professors and mathematicians but also spies and soldiers in enemy territory who risked their lives to obtain crucial codebooks.
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The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin

The world of codes and code-breaking can push the envelope, and The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin is one example. A series of three books, Drosnin’s philosophy includes the idea that the Torah has extra-terrestrial origins. Also, that extraordinary word and number patterns in ancient Hebrew Bible texts have much in common with modern computer codes and can even predict the future (although as this was first published in 1997, that future is now long past). Largely debunked on the world stage, you’ll still find some surprising coincidences and mystifying ‘codes’ explored here. At the very least this is a demonstration of the human need to see meaning and pattern in random things.

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A worldwide bestseller upon publication in 1997, Drosnin's controversial interpretation of the Hebrew text of the bible as predicting numerous future world events is perfect reading for all fans of coincidence and conspiracy.
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The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code succeeds in distilling deep symbolism, turgid religious history and out-there theories into an exciting, easily digested, page-turning thriller, the second in Brown’s Robert Langdon series. It’s a feat of decoding in itself and while I can’t recommend it enough, with more than 80 million copies sold, you’ve probably already read it…

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The phenomenal bestseller that brought codebreaking and the Knights Templar into the mainstream, Brown's unputdownable blockbuster finds a professor and a cryptologist on the trail of an ancient conspiracy.
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Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie

First published in 1973 and with its title taken from the poem Gates of Damascus by James Elroy Flecker, Postern of Fate has the dubious accolade of being Christie’s final novel. It’s also one of the few times she uses a code as a plot device. This text was dictated, rather than written, when the author was 83 years old, so be prepared for the action to take a circular route at times. Its endearing detective duo, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, and their sidekick Albert, are elderly now and not looking for any murders to solve. But when they discover a secret message in an old book, that says: ‘Mary Jordan did not die naturally’, the mystery has very much found them.

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Agatha Christie's final novel reintroduces the endearing crime solving duo of Tommy and Tuppence, as they are faced with a typically addictive puzzle based on some bizarre underlining in an old book.
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The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

This whodunnit set in a medieval Italian monastery is written by a professor of semiotics - the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation. As you might guess, there is a hefty dose of coded symbols and imagery as Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his sidekick Adso, investigate the suspicious death of a satirical illuminator. The story blends philosophy, history, theory and language into a surprisingly lively (considering the characters are monks) human story. In fact, despite its fearsome length and academic credentials, The Name of the Rose is about the hunt for a serial killer whose murders reflect the Seven Trumpets from the book of Revelation.

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An alchemic mixture of crime fiction, metaphysical philosophy and forensically detailed medieval history, Eco’s post-modern monastery-based murder mystery is an intellectual triumph as well as a diabolically clever whodunit.
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