The Traitor Beside Her
Mary Anna Evans
Audiobook narrated by Kimberly M. Wetherell
“Evans’s characters are vividly drawn, elevating this story and its revelations about women’s little-celebrated contributions to the war effort.”— Washington Post
“An exciting read with historical tidbits, a hint of danger, and a touch of romance.”— Kirkus Reviews
The Traitor Beside Her is an intricately plotted WWII espionage novel weaving together mystery, action, friendship, and a hint of romance perfect for fans of The Rose Code and Code Name Helene.
Justine Byrne can’t trust the people working beside her. Arlington Hall, a former women’s college in Virginia has been taken over by the United States Army where hundreds of men and women work to decode countless pieces of communication coming from the Axis powers.
Justine works among them, handling the most sensitive secrets of World War II—but she isn’t there to decipher German codes—she’s there to find a traitor.
Justine keeps her guard up and her ears open, confiding only in her best friend, Georgette, a fluent speaker of Choctaw who is training to work as a code talker. Justine tries to befriend each suspect, believing that the key to finding the spy lies not in cryptography but in understanding how code breakers tick. When young women begin to go missing at Arlington Hall, her deadline for unraveling the web of secrets becomes urgent and one thing remains clear: a single secret in enemy hands could end thousands of lives.
“A fascinating and intelligent WWII home front story.” —Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author for The Physicists’ Daughter
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Enjoy an Excerpt
Thursday, December 14, 1944
The steel beneath Justine Byrne’s shins was gunmetal gray, and the metal touched by her welding torch glowed as orange as her hair. Her ears were full of the shrieks and whines of heavy equipment. In every direction, she was surrounded by oceangoing vessels in various stages of completion and by the skilled people building them. She was working at the Washington Navy Yard, the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy, and the atmosphere was charged with the urgent need to build ever more ships and send them out to a world at war.
As Justine knelt on the deck of a half-finished ship, one eye on her work and one eye on a man perched on a scaffold above her, she wasn’t just breaking a fundamental rule of welding. She was blasting it to bits. A welder was supposed to keep her mind and her eyes on her work, because welding accidents tended to maim and kill.
Her target was talking to a man working beside him on the scaffold. No, “talking” wasn’t the right word. He was whispering. Their faces were so close that they might have been kissing. She wished she could be close enough to hear, but her cover story required her to be right where she was. It also required her to be welding, but the time had come for Justine to cut the gas to her torch before she killed somebody. The time had come to do nothing but watch, without letting anybody notice she was watching.
She sat back on her heels and rubbed her neck as if she had a crick in it. Then she rubbed her temple with a world-weary expression that she hoped said, “I’ve been working so hard for my country that I gave myself a splitting headache. I just need to rest a minute before I go back to welding together a victory for the Allies.” Then she used the hand on her temple to adjust her goggles, sliding them up on her forehead just enough to give her a view that wasn’t impeded by their tinted glass.
And there it was, the moment that she’d been sure was coming ever since she was briefed on this job. Her target’s lips formed the words, “It’s time,” as he locked eyes with the other man. Each man held out a hand to offer a handshake, and only someone who had been watching and waiting for this exact moment would have seen that neither hand was empty. Her target was palming a small brown packet that she knew held microfilm copies of naval design documents. The other man was palming a small green packet that assuredly held money. And in big bills, because they had to add up to enough cash to prompt a man to sell out his country for a sum that he could hold in one hand. After the handshake, her target held the green packet of money and the other man held the brown packet of blueprints.
This was an inopportune time for Ronald, the man who worked beside her, to turn solicitous.
“You turned off your torch. Is your head hurting again? I’ve got some aspirin in my lunchbox.”
Justine did not want Ronald’s aspirin. She wanted him to back off. She needed to get word to her partner Jerry that the transfer had occurred. And she needed to do it now, before her target hid the money or disappeared.
Now another inconvenient man, her boss Danny, was walking her way. He, too, must have noticed that she was loafing on the job. He was probably coming to tell her to light her torch and go back to welding, but Justine could not afford to let Danny slow her down. She caught his eye, put her hand on her belly, and pantomimed being ill.
Danny took three steps back and waved her away, and this meant that she was home free. Or she would have been, if Ronald hadn’t been so damn hard to get rid of.
“Are you okay, Justine?” he said, putting a hand on her waist as if to steady her. “You don’t look so good.”
Ronald hovered around all the women, but he was out-and-out handsy with Justine. She cringed at the familiar way he wrapped his hand around the side of her narrow waist and reached his long fingers all the way to her spine. This was his favorite move. He found an excuse to do it every day under the pretext of “helping” her, and she let it happen because she couldn’t afford to make a fuss that would get her transferred someplace where she couldn’t do her reconnaissance. He’d already done his waist-wrap move once that morning, then he’d managed to cozy up to her again during her lunch break, so Ronald was enjoying a very good day. Well, she wasn’t going to have to put up with him much longer.
“Don’t touch me. I’m sick, and you don’t want to catch it,” she mumbled through a fake retch, and even that didn’t make Ronald back down. As she hurried away, his fingers were still fumbling at the soft flesh where her waist swelled into her hips. It was enough to make her want to actually retch, instead of just pretending.
Jerry Strahan could see that Justine had fulfilled her mission. He’d positioned his wheelchair on the pier where her ship was moored, so that he could have her in his sights at the critical time. His sharp eyes had seen the moment when she lifted her head, and they had caught the motion of her arm when she adjusted her welding goggles. He knew exactly what she was trying to see, because he had been sitting beside her when she got this assignment. He was her partner, and that’s what made the thing he was about to do so damned hard.
He had listened as Paul explained the job to her calmly and thoroughly, making it plain that the stakes were high. Paul had told Justine that this undercover assignment, her first, was crucial to stopping the sale of documents that revealed critical vulnerabilities in the design of certain Navy ships. If she could find out who was selling the documents, she would be helping save the lives of the thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of American sailors who were aboard those ships.
Jerry knew Justine, so he had known from the start that she would do this job and she would do it well. And she had done it well. Even from this distance, he could see an air of success in the bounce of the brassy orange curls escaping her navy-blue kerchief. It was in her victorious stance as she stood on the ship’s deck above him, her coltish form wrapped in pale blue coveralls and silhouetted against the pale blue sky.
Justine’s quiet exuberance was evident in the confident way that she’d adjusted her goggles and in the way that she’d sprung to her feet when she’d completed her mission. She was heartbreakingly young, only twenty-one, but she had the competence of someone twice her age and she was fearsomely smart. In a lot of ways, Justine was the perfect partner for a government agent who wanted to get the job done and who also wanted to stay alive, and Jerry fervently wanted both those things.
Justine had done everything she’d been asked to do, as Jerry had known she would, and he would do everything that he had been asked to do. He would wait in his chair for her to come and tell him that her job was done. And then he would do again what he’d been doing every day since they got to the shipyard.
He would betray her.
Mary Anna Evans is an award-winning author, a writing professor, and she holds degrees in physics and engineering, a background that, as it turns out, is ideal for writing her Justine Byrne series, which began with The Physicists’ Daughter and continues with her new book, The Traitor Beside Her. She describes Justine as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker.”
Mary Anna’s crime fiction has earned recognition that includes two Oklahoma Book Awards, the Will Rogers Medallion Awards Gold Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Award, and she co-edited the Edgar-nominated Bloomsbury Handbook to Agatha Christie.
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