Book Spotlight: The Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman

The Codebreaker's Secret
by Sara Ackerman
Release Date: August 2, 2022

About The Codebreaker's Secret
Dual-timeline historical fiction for fans of Chanel Cleeton and Beatriz Williams, The Codebreaker's Secret is a story of codebreaking, secrets, murder, romance and longing.


Cryptanalysist Isabel Cooper manuevers herself into a job at Station Hypo after the attack on Pearl Harbor, determined to make a difference in the war effort and defeat the Japanese Army by breaking their coded transmissions. When the only other female codebreaker at the station goes missing, Isabel suspects it has something to do with Operation Vengeance, which took out a major enemy target, but she can't prove it. And with the pilot she thought she was falling for reassigned to a different front, Isabel walks away from it all.


Rookie journalist Lucy Medeiras has her foot in the door for her dream job when she lands the assignment to cover the grand opening of Rockefeller’s new hotel–the most expensive ever built. The week of celebrations is attended by celebrities and politicians, but Lucy gets off on the wrong foot with a cranky experienced reporter from New York named Matteo Russi. When a high-profile guest goes missing, and the ensuing search uncovers a decades-old skeleton in the lava fields, the story gets interesting, and Lucy teams up with Matteo to look into it. Something in Matteo's memory leads them on a hunt that involves a senatorial candidate, old codes from WWII, and Matteo's old flame, a woman named Isabel.

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An Excerpt from The Codebreaker's Secret


Washington, DC, September 1942

There was perhaps no more tedious work in the world. Sitting at a desk all day staring at numbers or letters and looking for patterns. Taking notes and making charts. Thinking until your brain ached. For days and weeks and years on end. The extreme concentration drove some to the bottle, others to madness, and yet others to a quiet greatness that less than ten people in the world might ever know about. You might work for a year on cracking a particular code, only to have nothing to show for it but a tic in your eye and a boil on the back of your thigh. Failure was a given. Accept that and you’d won half the battle.

Isabel sat at her desk staring at a page full of rows and columns of five-letter groups that made no sense whatsoever on this side of the world. But on the other side, in Tokyo where the messages originated, she knew that Japanese officials were discussing war plans. War plans that were on this paper. As her eyes scanned the page, she felt the familiar scratching at the subconscious that meant she was close to seeing some kind of pattern. A prick of excitement traveled up her spine.

Suddenly, a hand waved up and down in front of her face, rudely pulling her out of her thoughts. “Isabel, you gotta put a lid on that noise. No one else can do their jobs,” said Lieutenant Rawlings, her new boss.

She forced a smile. “Sorry, sir, most of the time I’m not aware that I’m doing it. I’m—”

“That may be the case but try harder. I don’t want to lose you.”

Isabel had a tendency to hum during her moments of deepest focus, which had gotten her in trouble with her supervisors over the past year and a half while at Main Navy. In fact, she’d been transferred on more than one occasion due to the distracting nature of it. She’d worked hard to stop it, but when she went into that otherworldly state of mind, where everything slid away and the images moved around in her head of their own accord, the humming kicked back in. It would be like asking her not to breathe.

Lately, the whole team had reached a level of frustration that had turned the air in the room sour. Though they’d had success with the old Red machine, this complex supercipher seemed impossible to break. Faith was draining fast.

With her dress plastered to her back, and sucking on the second salt tablet of the day, Isabel put her head down, scribbling notes on her giant piece of paper. September in Washington burned hotter than a brick oven. Thoughts of her brother, Walt, kept interfering with her ability to stay on task. He would have turned twenty-five years old today. Would have been flying around somewhere in the Pacific about now, shooting down enemy planes, and hooting and hollering when he landed his plane full of bullet holes on the flattop. Walt loved nothing more than the thrill of the chase. Every time she thought of him, a lump formed in her throat and she had to fight back the tears. No one had ever, or ever would, love her more than Walt had.

More than anything, Isabel wanted to get to Hawai‘i and see the spot where his plane plunged into the ocean. To learn more about his final days and hear the story straight from the mouths of his buddies. As if that would somehow make her feel better. She rubbed her eyes. For now, she was stuck here in this hellhole of a building, either sweltering or shivering, depending on what time of year it was.

At 1130, her friend Nora waltzed in from a break, looking as though she’d swallowed the cat. Nora had a way of knowing things before everyone else, and Isabel was lucky enough to be stationed at the desk next to hers.

“Spill the beans, lady,” Isabel said quietly.

Nora glanced around the room, dramatically. “Later.”

Most of the team was still out to lunch, save for a couple of girls across the room, and Rawlings behind the glass in his office.

“No one’s even here, tell me now.”

Nora came over and sat on Isabel’s desk, legs crossed. She picked up a manila folder and began fanning herself, then leaned in. “I’ve heard from a very good source that the brass are tossing around names for the lucky—or unlucky, depending on how you look at it—crypto being sent to Pearl.”

Station Hypo at Pearl Harbor was one of the two main codebreaking units in the Pacific. Nora knew how badly Isabel wanted to be there.

Isabel perked up. “Whose names are being tossed?”

“That, I don’t know.”

“Should I remind Rawlings to remind Feinstein that I’m interested?”

“Absolutely not.”

“It couldn’t hurt, could it?” Isabel said.

“Sorry, love, but those men would just as soon send a polar bear to Hawai‘i as a woman,” Nora said.

“You seem to forget that one of the best codebreakers around is female. And the only reason most of our bosses know anything is because she taught them,” Isabel said, speaking softly. This was the kind of talk that could get you moved to the basement. And Isabel did not do well in basements.

“Neither of us is Agnes Driscoll, so just get it out of your head. And even Agnes is not in Hawai‘i,” Nora whispered.

“There has to be a way.”

“Maybe if you dug up a cache of Japanese codebooks. Or said yes to Captain Smythe,” Nora said with a wink.

Nora and Isabel were a study in opposites. Her short red bob had been curled under and sprayed into place, her lips painted fire-engine red. She had a new man on her arm every weekend and walked around in a cloud of French lilac perfume that permeated their entire floor.

“I have no interest in Captain Smythe,” Isabel said.

Hal Smythe was as dull as they came. At least as far as Isabel was concerned. Intelligent and handsome, but sorely lacking any charisma and the ability to make her laugh—one of her main prerequisites in a man. She had no time to waste on uninteresting men. Or men in general, for that matter. There were codes to be cracked and enemies to be defeated.

“Well, then, you’d better pull off something big,” Nora said.

Excerpted from The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman.
Copyright © 2022 by Sara Ackerman.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About Sara Ackerman
Sara Ackerman is a USA Today bestselling author who writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories.

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