Book Review: "The Crimson Cipher" by Susan Page Davis

In 1915, German sympathizers escalated acts of sabotage in the United States to keep the nation from joining in the war. Following the mysterious murder of Emma Shuster's father, Lt. John Patterson invites Emma to become a Navy cryptographer because of the expertise she gained in helping her father develop a cipher system. Emma finds new strength in her faith as she strives to outwit her adversary, known only as Kobold - German for goblin. Can Emma and John find love in the midst of turmoil as America plunges toward war?

I love a good historical fiction read. Not a historical romance, mind you. They are two completely different genres. Now, a sprinkle of romance in the historical fiction is ok but not so much that the only historical aspect of the book is that it doesn't take place in present time. No, give a me a book where it is clearly obvious that the author has done lots of research to make sure that facts are correct and historical figures are portrayed accurately. And that's exactly what this book gave me.

I believe this is the first fiction book that I've read that deals with cryptography. I'm very limited with my knowledge about breaking codes. In fact the only two recollections I can recall about my experiences with this subject in pop culture are a James Bond film (For Your Eyes Only) and an episode of Ghostwriter (remember the first episode? THABTO?). Therefore I was really interested in the subject matter of this book and how Davis was able to bring it to life. Because breaking codes are usually top secret material that the general public doesn't know about until years later, it was fascinating to read about the lives of the code breakers. During the first World War there were many opportunities for those skilled in the field to help out the government. I was pleased at all the opportunities for women to be able to participate and help out during this time period even though the 19th Amendment hadn't been passed yet. Emma still faces some discrimination because she is a woman but because of her skilled background she became respected.

As for the romance part of the story, there is chemistry between Emma and John but not so much that it distracts from the historical aspect of the story. In fact the characters are separated most of the time so each is allowed to focus more on their work than each other. I found this to be quite refreshing as, to be honest, I was more involved with the code breaking aspect of the story and found their jobs to be more interesting than their love life. One extra plus for me about this story was that several scenes take place in Fairfax, VA which is where I live now. Even though there is nothing that is the same, due to the time difference, it was still nice to know that this area had a big impact with the story.

Overall, I found this book to be a fascinating read. It's a really good historical fiction novel, heavy on the historical aspects but written extremely well. The religious aspects of the book are downplayed and are respectful of the era that the book is set in. I found this book to heighten my interest in code breakers and look forward to finding out more about them in my own personal research. A great book for those looking for a new twist on the same old war story.

The Crimson Cipher by Susan Page Davis is published by Summerside Press (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


  1. I'm going to try and get my review of this book posted tonight - I enjoyed it as well, though Emma's character frustrated me a bit. I wanted more sparks between her and John, I guess. :) I will say one thing, this book really made me want to re-watch The 39 Steps!

  2. Deborah, thank you for featuring my new book. I thoroughly enjoyed the research and renewed my own interst in ciphers. My friends and I used to make up codes when we were kids, but not the complicated ones used by the military. Readers who like codes can solve a cryptogram in the book to enter a contest from the publisher to win more books. How cool is that? Your readers can also visit my site at where I have a monthly drawing for books.

  3. Wow, that sounds right up my alley! I love historical fiction, but as you put so well, not historical romance. I also lately have been really interested in the world wars. I definitely want to read this!


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