The Traitor Beside Her, Guest Post by Mary Anna Evans

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.

The Choctaw Code Talkers

In The Traitor Beside Her, one of the main characters, Georgette Broussard, has been hired by the United States government during World War II to do espionage work because she is a fluent speaker of the Choctaw language. Readers often tell me that they are surprised by this. They have heard of the Navajo Code Talkers, but they aren’t aware that other languages were used for secret communication by the Allies.

The heroic work of the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II has become deservedly famous in recent years, after decades when their work was little-known. Using a language indigenous to North America as a special kind of code that enemies from other continents would be unlikely to crack was a brilliant tactical move on the part of the Allies, and it worked. The Navajo Code Talkers’ communications resisted the efforts of accomplished code breakers.

Fewer people, however, know that members of tribes other than the Navajo also served. Fewer still know that the strategy of using languages indigenous to North America for secret communications started long before World War II. The National Museum of the United States Army lists members of the Choctaw, Cheyenne, Cherokee, Comanche, Ho-Chunk, Osage, and Yankton Sioux tribes as having served.

Choctaw soldiers in training in World War I Wikipedia

The work of Choctaw soldiers in World War I is well-documented. Their work was described in a message to headquarters by Colonel Alfred Wainwright Bloor, commander of the 142nd Infantry 36th Infantry Division, who wrote that the regiment included speakers of “twenty-six different languages or dialects, only four or five of which were ever written.” His Choctaw soldiers coordinated a victorious surprise attack by the 36th Infantry Division in October 1918.

Because of such successful operations, the program was expanded during World War II to include 34 tribes, including the Choctaw. It is based on this information that I created an opportunity for Georgette to use her knowledge of the Choctaw language in her work. Her best friend, series protagonist Justine Byrne, is fascinated by the language and Georgette begins teaching her to speak it. In order to make sure I was using the words and phrases Georgette teaches Justine properly, I reached out to Dora Wickson at the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and she helped me tremendously.

I’ll avoid spoilers by not telling you how Georgette and Justine use the Choctaw language to communicate something very important, but they do. You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Credit for historical information on Code Talkers in WWI and WWII goes to the National Museum of the United States Army

My personal thanks and acknowledgement go to Dora Wickson of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Yakoke!

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Meet Mary Anna Evans

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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