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"The Codebreaker's Secret" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

In Sara Ackerman’s book, ‘The Codebreaker’s Secret,” Isabel Cooper is a college graduate working in Hawaii, the only female codebreaker in a highly secretive underground bunker during World War II. She is determined to use her skills to help capture Japanese soldiers who were responsible for the death of her only brother. He was killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942.

In 1943, a Japanese submarine is captured by the United States Navy. A journal with notes written in code is given to Isabel and her team. Isabel cracks the code that leads to a secret military excursion that culminates with the death of the Japanese admiral responsible for the attack on the United States.

Isabel lives in military quarters with Gloria, also employed by the military, but in a different role. Isabel becomes close to Gloria and even closer to an army friend of her brother, Matteo Russi. When Gloria disappears, and Russi leaves Hawaii on a secret flying mission, Isabel vows to avoid close connections with anyone for as long as she can to avoid further emotional pain.

In 1965, Lawrence Rockefeller opens the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Prominent people are invited to the grand opening. Rockefeller has invited Lu, a journalist who is writing a piece about the hotel for a travel magazine, and Russi, who survived dangerous WWII missions, and is now a renowned magazine photographer. Their roles change to investigative reporting when singer Joni Diaz, a guest of Rockefeller, mysteriously disappears.

Ackerman’s descriptions of Hawaii are to be savored, as is the intriguing storytelling linking the disappearance of Gloria in 1925 and that of Joni in 1943. Both have ties to Russi. The mystery of the two women who disappeared 40 years from each other unfolds as their stories are told.

Ackerman’s novel brings to light the importance of women as codebreakers during WWII (there were over 10,000 women employed by the military for this job). It was a grueling task requiring familiarity with math and foreign languages.

Fans of historical fiction, mystery, and romance will enjoy this narrative which transports the reader back to the mid 1920s.

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