Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication Date – 30 April 2018
From acclaimed Australian author Christine Wells comes this touching and memorable tale of love, captivity and endurance in the darkest of times.
During World War II, Juliet Barnard was a British agent working for the Special Operations Executive. A skilled wireless operator, she was one of the few female agents that were dropped into occupied France to meet contacts and pass intelligence back to the Allies. While initially successful, she was only active in France for a short time before the Nazis captured her. Trapped in a prison that specialised in interrogating captured spies and infiltrators at Paris’s Avenue Foch, Juliet endured torture, drugging and manipulation and came out of the prison a different person.
Now, two years after the end of the war, Juliet is still recovering from her ordeal and trying to continue a relationship with Felix, the man she fell in love with during her training. Claiming to be suffering from memory loss, Juliet has managed to avoid providing any details about her time at Avenue Foch or about the man who held her captive, Sturmbannführer Strasser. Finding Strasser is the last thing Juliet wants to happen, because he knows a dark secret about Juliet – a secret she would kill to protect. However, when Juliet meets Mac, an SAS officer turned Nazi hunter whose sister served in the war with Juliet, her guilt compels her to return to Paris to help him locate Strasser.
This is the third book from Wells, who has previously written two English-based historical stories that feature a strong, female protagonist. The Juliet Code is the second book from Wells that focuses on British spy activities during World War II; her previous novel, The Traitor’s Girl, focused on a World War II MI5 operative. The Juliet Code is another excellent and intense romp into the history of World War II, and Wells has done an amazing job of creating this unique and emotional story. This book is a combination of a great dramatic story and a two-stage historical spy thriller wrapped up with a poignant romantic subplot.
Wells has injected considerable drama and emotion into her story, especially through her main character, Juliet, who goes through substantial emotional changes throughout the book. Before she is dropped into France, Juliet is portrayed as a shy girl, unsure of her abilities as a potential spy but eager to do her duty to her country. After the war she is more hardened individual who is suffering from guilt, both due to being one of the few agents to survive capture and because of her own actions during the war. These changes in the character are made obvious to the reader, not just because of Wells’s great writing ability but also because she switches between the mid-war and post-war scenes multiple times. Wells slowly reveals the main character’s wartime secret, which is a central part of the plot. While there are some hints to what this secret is early in the book, the full reveal is not done until later in the story, and makes use of a moving and artfully constructed confession scene.
The Juliet Code is set in the 1940s, and Wells has broken the story up into two distinct periods. The first period starts in 1943 and continues for the rest of the war, examining the main character’s training, her infiltration of occupied France and her time as a captive at Avenue Foch. The parts of the book set during the war are very intriguing and are some of the most appealing scenes from a historical fiction viewpoint. The sections that feature Juliet training and actively spying in France were some of my favourite parts of the plot, and I loved reading Wells’s descriptions about the French resistance networks, the British covert activities, their espionage techniques and the counteroperations the Nazis were undertaking to catch the operatives active in France. There are also some significant descriptions of how the British wireless transmitters functioned and British coding techniques. These very technical parts of the book contain some fascinating information while also providing the reader with a good understanding of this technology and what the operators were doing with it. There are also a number of scenes that follow Juliet after she is captured and held as an enemy spy in Paris. These parts of the book are, by necessity, darker in nature, depicting how these spies, especially female operatives, were treated during this period. There are also thorough descriptions of the historical locations used as prisons in Paris.
The second part of the book is set in 1947 and features Juliet and her companions revisiting the sites of Juliet’s captivity and attempting to hunt down her jailer. This part of the book comes across as more of a traditional spy thriller, and contains some vivid descriptions of post-war France. There are some examinations of how the Allies and the Soviets were attempting to capture or recruit former members of the Nazi regime, as well as some interesting looks into the post-war espionage that was occurring at this time. Wells also revisits characters and locations encountered by the protagonist during the war, and these scenes are used to provide clues to locate Strasser while also providing additional hints about what happened to Juliet during her captivity.
Among the defining features of The Juliet Code are the realistic and detailed characters that the reader gets to enjoy. They feel so realistic because these characters were inspired by real historical figures who served in similar capacities during the war. This touch of realism adds a lot to the book and serves as an inspirational reminder of those unsung heroes of British espionage. These fictional facsimiles do interact with a few real historical figures within the book, and readers will be captivated as they find out which of these unique wartime stories are actually historical fact.
Wells has included an enticing romantic subplot between the characters of Juliet and Felix. Readers will be able to feel the affection that these two characters have for each other, as well as the loss they experience as a result of Juliet’s capture. Their relationship is also masterfully woven into the main story, and elements of their romance become key plot points, such as some personal romantic poems that actually contain transmitter codes. Thankfully, Wells decided not to invest too much time in a love triangle between Juliet, Felix and Mac, although she does include the initial and somewhat entertaining jealousy you would come to expect from this situation. Overall, the romantic subplot is both absorbing and nicely subtle, as it does not overwhelm the rest of the story.
Australian author Christine Wells once again delivers an elegant piece of literature that makes full use of its well-paced dramatic story and an utterly stimulating historical setting and content. Fans of historical fiction will love The Juliet Code’s dive into World War II spycraft and counterespionage, as well as the excellent and electrifying thriller that blazes through post-war France. This is a phenomenal novel that sticks in the mind and will appeal to wide array of readers.