The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers is a fiction novel set in a fantastical world with just a little bit of mystery and romance. Sayers created a world that sucked me in, with beautiful writing and a plot that kept me guessing.
The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
For over 80 years, there were rumors that a Secret Circus – le Cirque Secret – existed in Paris in the 1920s. A spectacular show of animals and acrobatics, circus tickets were delivered to a chosen few; the circus hidden from the uninvited. While there were rumors and stories from those that were lucky enough to attend, the circus’s existence was never confirmed. As far as anyone knows, there were no photographs or paintings, old tickets or posters… no material proof of that the circus was real. But it was never forgotten.
The story of Nina Guerrera, foster child turned FBI Special Agent, continues in the second book of the series.
A family in Phoenix is murdered in their sleep, and the crime is linked to one four years earlier in New York, through a footprint. The FBI is brought in to determine whether the two cases are linked. Very quickly, the team – including Nina and her team from the first book in the series – determine that not only are the two crimes linked, they are the most recent two crimes in a series of murders going back years.
Bletchley Park may look like a mansion in a quiet country village but it’s one of Britain’s most important assets during World War II. Bletchley Park (BP) is where hundreds of men and women worked to break Axis encrypted messages, the Enigma codes.
Wartime Britain brings together three unlikely women at the secretive estate – debutant Osla, self-made Mab, and the quiet and awkward Beth. Together, these woman make a life for themselves while serving their country. But like all BP employees, the women are sworn to secrecy, hiding their work and much of their everyday lives from loved ones.
As the war drags on, the three friends are torn apart – first by tragedy and then by treason. Someone locks Beth away at Clockwell Sanatorium to prevent her from revealing the existence of a traitor at BP, someone selling secrets to the Soviets. She is still there in 1947, and the traitor is still at large. Beth manages a desperate plea to Osla and Mab for help. She may have survived more than 3 years locked up, but in just a handful of days, she’ll undergo surgery and become a vegetable if Osla and Mab can’t come to her rescue. And maybe, just maybe, the women can identify the traitor and bring him or her to justice.
I became a big fan of Kate Quinn’s historical fiction novels when I read The Alice Network and The Huntress, and Quinn’s latest was no disappointment. Like her earlier books, Quinn took creative liberties in the characters, timeline, and plot but remained true to major themes, historical moments, and social aspects of the time. For example, all three WWII-era books stem from true stories and historical figures. In The Rose Code, some of the characters are fictional versions of those that worked at BP. Others represent a few different individuals or were created to exemplify a group of people. The Author’s Note clearly explains where Quinn deviated from history and what was true.
The Rose Code alternates between two timeframes – WWII, starting in 1940, and post-war 1947, as Britain counts down the days until the wedding. Most of the novel focus on wartime Britain, where we follow Osla, Mab, and Beth as they develop their friendship and their careers. BP was a place that recruited all sorts of quirky and/or nerdy people and thus, fostered a more openminded and accepting atmosphere than common at that time. The alternating 1947 timeframe tracks the trio after the war, uniting old friends to help Beth and identify the BP traitor.
The Rose Code has a little something for everyone – history, love, and mystery. It’s a fascinating story of the secret codebreakers of BP (the predecessor to today’s Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ), who are credited with ending the war more than a year earlier and saving many lives.
If you like historical fiction, this one (and Quinn’s others) are definitely worth a read. Once I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down.
Nina Guerrera is a fighter. Emancipated at age 17 after a difficult childhood, Nina put herself through college, joined the police force, and later the FBI as a Special Agent. She had put her past behind her and moved on, creating a successful life for herself.
That is, until Nina is attacked in a park. Someone records Nina fighting off her would-be rapist and inadvertently awakens a nightmare from her past.
It’s 1939 and Odile Souchet just accepted her dream job at the American Library in Paris, despite her family’s desire for her to stay home and get married. Shortly after, the Nazis invade France and Paris becomes an occupied city. Odile and her fellow librarians struggle to stay open, to serve the community, and to fight the best way know how – by providing books to anyone who wishes. The librarians ship boxes of books to soldiers overseas; they risk their lives to deliver books to Jewish subscribers who are prohibited from entering the library. Odile does all of this, while also falling in love with a young police officer.