A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: An unusual WWII military story, one for which I had some mixed emotions.
London, 1941, and Roger Mathews, a special attaché with the U.S. is teamed up with British captain Clive Westmore to execute a secret plan to secure the final key to solving the Nazi’s secret codes from within occupied France. Complicating matters, the two are instantly attracted to each other, beginning a romantic involvement whose tender alliance can only make more intricate their already convoluted mission.
The Code is the first published novel by new author David Juhren. Though not without a few issues for me, I found it to be generally well-written and fairly unusual for a book in this genre, which is a good thing.
Set in war-torn 1941 London, the story opens with Roger, an American political attaché, up on the rooftop of his apartment building hanging out during a nighttime air raid. That’s not unusual; unhappy in his comfortable personal life and despite the hazards, he is known to often take unnecessary risks. The next day he is asked to attend a meeting of high-powered British and American men to discuss a secret mission into Nazi-occupied France to obtain a piece of the Enigma machine, a device that encodes and decodes messages within the German military. He is paired with British Navy captain Clive, who has vast experience moving within France. Roger is immediately attracted to the handsome man, and within a few weeks they are caught up in a passionate relationship besides working together. The mission is a dangerous one, and their involvement with one another only heightens the risk. But a discovered secret document makes them question everything they are doing.
The first thing I should say is the reader should have at least some interest in World War II military strategy, espionage, and/or history before picking this book up as it is relatively heavy in the topic and terminology. While I found it all fairly intriguing, I admit there were times that my eyes were glazing over in detail and although some important information necessary for understanding the story is given, I felt like I had to look up a good number of terms to follow it at times, which was both a bit distracting and caused me to pull out of the story. Readers with better knowledge of the period and WWII may have a better time of it.
A few things about the telling of The Code. The first part of the book is narrated by Roger, then the rest is told by both protags alternately as they are apart while Clive is in France, which worked well. Though the majority of the story is set in 1941, it is interlaced with flashbacks of the past of interactions with previous lovers and to describe how the different characters became what they are (including a secondary character). Additionally, many chapters open with a look into the future/current of an old man alone on the rocks of Dover, seemingly days after the death of another man close to him, reminiscing about this man. The assumption is that this is Clive based on some clues we are given.
Though there is a heavy romantic element to the story, I had some problems with it. One thing contributing to that is there is quite a bit of telling — as opposed to showing — of our heroes spending time together in the first half of the story getting to know one another. In the beginning, they are in each other’s company much of the day working on the project, then literally twenty-four hours daily between work and their affair, and I really missed and even felt a bit cheated of seeing them interact with dialog and touches and looks. There is a short scene of them taking a bath together, and it’s intimate moments like this one that I would have loved to have seen more of. Because of this, I felt like I really didn’t get to know these two men — especially Clive — as well as I could have, nor did I find myself overly invested in them. Other readers may feel differently. Here is an example of a passage describing their time together:
The two would sit next to each other on the floor in front of the fire, eating and talking. Sometimes, one would tell a story and the other would laugh. Sometimes, one would tell a story and the other would reach out to place a reassuring hand on top of his. By now, having spent hours upon hours talking about their lives, Roger felt as if he had known Clive for years… Roger already knew so much about Clive’s life that he felt he had watched it all at the cinema.
Related to this, note that there is no detailed smexxin, only vague words, such as:
He made sure Roger was comfortable, lying on the couch, and over the next twenty minutes, proceeded to perform several unbridled acts that left Roger spent, and panting in total ecstasy.
I bring this up because, although it worked with the overall tone and pace of the story, the lack of physical intimacy on the page meant that I once again didn’t get to see them interact, lending even further to the feeling that I really didn’t get to know Roger and Clive.
I liked how real-life mathematician/cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who was gay and was ultimately prosecuted for it by the British government, was woven credibly into the story as part of the mission and friend — and former lover — to Roger. The tale is shrouded in the way society was around homosexuality in the late 30s/early 40s, which worked for me. Lastly, I got a feel for what it is like to live in war conditions with nighttime blackouts, bombs dropping close by, beautiful sunrises after nights with air raids, and rations. I thought there was sufficient suspense in the second half as Clive goes to France and tries to make his way back out.
The Code would appeal to those who like historical and/or military stories, especially if you have interest in World War II. I will be interested to see what this author releases next.