About the Book
Book: The Cryptographer’s Dilemma
Author: Johnnie Alexander
Genre: Historical Christian Fiction
Release date: August, 2021
A Code Developer Uncovers a Japanese Spy Ring
Full of intrigue, adventure, and romance, this new series celebrates the unsung heroes—the heroines of WWII.
FBI cryptographer Eloise Marshall is grieving the death of her brother, who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, when she is assigned to investigate a seemingly innocent letter about dolls. Agent Phillip Clayton is ready to enlist and head oversees when asked to work one more FBI job. A case of coded defense coordinates related to dolls should be easy, but not so when the Japanese Consulate gets involved, hearts get entangled, and Phillip goes missing. Can Eloise risk loving and losing again?
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About the Author
Johnnie Alexander creates characters you want to meet and imagines stories you won’t forget in a variety of genres. An award-winning, best-selling novelist, she serves on the executive boards of Serious Writer, Inc. and the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference, co-hosts Writers Chat, and interviews other inspirational authors for Novelists Unwind. Johnnie lives in Oklahoma with Griff, her happy-go-lucky collie, and Rugby, her raccoon-treeing papillon. Connect with her at www.johnnie-alexander.com and other social media sites via https://linktr.ee/johnniealexndr.
More from Johnnie
American Traitor in WWII
Not all secret messages involve substitution codes where random letters and numbers replace the original letters and numbers. Velvalee Dickinson, a doll collector who owned a doll shop on Madison Avenue in New York City, used jargon code to pass along information to the Japanese about the U.S. ships that had been damaged at Pearl Harbor.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the letters (as originally written):
The only new dolls I have are THREE LOVELY IRISH dolls. One of these three dolls is an old Fisherman with a Net over his back—another is an old woman with wood on her back and the third is a little boy….I can only think of our sick boy these days. You wrote me that you had sent a letter to Mr. Shaw, well I want to see MR. SHAW he distroyed Your letter, you know he has been Ill. His car was damaged but is being repaired now. I saw a few of his family about. They all say Mr. Shaw will be back to work soon.
Velvalee, who the FBI nicknamed The Doll Woman, wrote this letter on her Underwood typewriter. She used the return address and forged the signature of one of her regular customers, Mary Wallace of Springfield, Ohio. Then Velvalee mailed the letter to an address in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Unknown to Velvalee, the Japanese had abandoned the Buenos Aires address as a drop point. The letter was marked “return to sender.” When Mrs. Wallace received it, she turned it in to the Post Office Director in Springfield who passed it along to the FBI.
Cryptographers determined that the letter was written in jargon code. To the casual reader, the letter is about dolls. But the intended recipient would have understood it’s about much more than that.
In this example, only one of five letters given to the FBI between February and August of 1942,
cryptographers decoded the message as follows:
- Old Fisherman with a Net over his back ~ refers to an aircraft carrier which has anti-torpedo nettings on its sides.
- Old woman with wood on her back ~ refers to an older battleship, one made of wood.
- A little boy plus our sick boy ~ a damaged ship.
Cryptographers believed that the words Mr. Shaw and Your were purposely capitalized and that the word distroyed was purposely misspelled to draw attention to them. Mr. Shaw referred to the USS Shaw, a destroyer (distroy + your = destroyer).
The remainder of the letter says Mr. Shaw is ill but “will be back to work soon.”
The ship was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. As the heroine in The Cryptographer’s Dilemma explains, “About two weeks before this letter was written, it [the USS Shaw] was undergoing repairs in San Francisco.”
In the novel, Eloise Marshall is a naval cryptographer who teams up with FBI agent Phillip Clayton, to find the person responsible for forging the signatures on the letters. Their search takes them from Washington, DC to the Springfield, Ohio, to the west coast and back again. On their journey, Eloise will confront an unexpected specter from her past and Phillip will risk his life to save hers.
I love war stories about espionage and how people are caught. What intrigued me about the story was learning about cryptography. It is a special gift to be able to decipher codes that are sent to deter the conman person from figuring out what is being said. Elosie is a very smart woman whose talent is vital to the FBI. It was interesting to get a glimpse of how she works. It must have been a great honor to be chosen for a special assignment. Working with another agent will find her traveling to different places while collecting information for the FBI.
Phillip was a good character but I didn’t connect with him as much. He was a good agent yet he always seemed to think he could be doing something else for his country. At first I wasn’t sure how working with Eloise would work out, but they did take their assignment serious enough that they blended well with each other. As they began their secret mission I was ready to join them and help them along the way. They made me want to know them more and the author gives us a little background about each of them which helped me understand their traits better.
The secret letters that they followed was really fun as the mystery started to unravel. The historical facts are good and kept with the time period perfectly. Each letter was a challenge as Eloise used her skills to decipher the hidden messages in each one. It was easy for me to figure out who the person was behind all the mystery which disappointed me. I wanted more mystery and less about Eloise worried that she would not be a part in solving the case.
I had no idea that the story was based on a true historical person. Now this made me want to go back and do research about this person. It wasn’t uncommon for secrets to be passed during wartime, but it was uncommon as who was doing it in thus book. Having the codes deciphered quickly was a let down for me. I wanted tithe author to expand on this more and maybe add more drama to the story.
I was very confused when a certain character appeared in the story. It just didn’t make sense why he was there and how quickly Eloise started to depend on him. We see her upset seeing something in the paper and given no clue for some time. I really want to know how he became involved and why he was suddenly trust worthy. The ending was a let down though and was very light on a faith element.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit . The review is my own opinion.
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To celebrate her tour, Johnnie is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon gift card and a copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.