The Physicists’ Daughter was one of my four or five most favorite mysteries of 2022, so I’ve been eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series, The Traitor Beside Her. And it doesn’t disappoint!
All of the same elements that I loved in the first book are still there in this one, however now Justine and her best friend, Georgette, are official employees of the US government. So rather than having to figure out that something is wrong on their own, this time they’ve been sent on purpose to suss out a suspected spy among the codebreakers at Arlington Hall. The stakes are high, since, as you might guess, a traitor in the midst of the operations there would have access to highly sensitive information that could change the course of the war.
At first it seems as if the entire mission might go awry on the first day, when Justine is recognized by a close friend of her parents, and her carefully developed cover story is blown. But she quickly adapts, and eventually her sharp brain and analytical skills, and Georgette’s own home-grown skills (duck hunting with her father and brothers!) and down-to-earth way of looking at things, enable them to piece together what is going on. And there was a very nice twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, which is always fun.
Even more enjoyable, however is the detailed and fascinating picture of WWII life on the US home front that author Mary Anna Evans again paints. When reading The Physicists’ Daughter, I got so fascinated with the background that I searched and read up on the Higgins Boat Factory. In A Traitor Beside Her, it was the quirky lives of the codebreakers themselves that are central to the story – a group of (mostly) young women, often on their own for the first time, with odd talents for math, or languages, or puzzles – or all three. Having read Liza Mundy’s excellent non-fiction account of the US codebreaking program, Code Girls, not too long ago, everything just felt so right. And also as with The Physicists’ Daughter, I felt a personal connection of sorts: in this case, my grandfather and great-uncle were two rare anglo Navajo speakers, who worked with the Navajo code-talkers during the war, so I could remember their stories while I was reading about Georgette’s Choctaw-speaking brothers doing the same thing.
All-in-all, The Traitor Beside Her is a totally worthy follow-on to The Physicists’ Daughter, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes historical mysteries, and even folks who just like historical novels. And there’s a nice little hook at the end, so hopefully the next book in the series will be coming soon. I’ll be waiting with fingers crossed! And finally my thanks to Poisoned Pen Press and NetGalley for the advance review copy!