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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

Hello all! Welcome to my Author Spotlight blog series where I interview upcoming authors and their recently released novels. My Author Spotlight series started at Hofstra University where I transferred from, and I am fortunate enough to continue the series at NYU! 

I had the chance to interview New York Times and internationally bestselling author of crime fiction Ellie Marney. Her notable works include, “None Shall Sleep” and the “Circus Heart” series. When she’s not writing, Marney spends her time researching in mortuaries and talking to autopsy specialists. 

Her newest release, “The Killing Code,” follows female codebreakers in an intense mystery hunting down a serial killer in 1940s wartime Washington D.C. 

Death is a very gruesome topic that not everyone can handle in everyday life. How would you say you’re not like these people? What draws you to these topics?

Death certainly is a gruesome topic! But I think it has enduring appeal – everyone has been touched by death at some point, and it’s the path we’re all on (if that doesn’t seem too morbid!) plus the last two years of COVID have given us a greater appreciation of our own mortality. I guess for me, as a writer, I’m always attracted to high-stakes concepts in the books I read and write – and there’s nothing more high-stakes than death! For teenagers, too, the idea of deathly danger is something they usually find fascinating and intriguing (I know this is certainly true of my own teen children). That’s one of the reasons why [“The Killing Code”] is a murder mystery, and why I keep returning to murder stories again and again.

How does “The Killing Code” differ from your other crime thriller novels?

Well, it’s the first book I’ve written set in the 40s, and it’s the first time I’ve written an all-female ensemble cast. It’s also the first queer romance I’ve written – but honestly that part came very easily. It seemed like, on a practical level, it would be completely natural that some of the girls in codebreaking units who worked together so closely would fall in love. It also seemed like Kit and Moya had such fantastic sexual tension in every scene they were in together, so that romantic progression was one of the simplest writing decisions I’ve ever made; it was like ’yes, stand near each other – and now kiss!’

What made you choose the World War II era as the setting for this novel?

I knew if I was going to write about codebreaking in [“The Killing Code”], it would be a story set during World War II – because that was pretty much the last time period when all codebreaking was done by hand, without computer assistance. I’m completely captivated by the experiences of codegirls during the war: Entire battalions of young women, fighting the Axis powers with pencil and paper in a war of intelligence and wits. And as soon as I found out that Arlington Hall – the secret US Army signal intelligence facility during WWII – used to be a girl’s college, that sealed the deal. I simply had to write about these teenage girls who band together to fight the enemy and track a serial killer.

What do you think the appeal is of serial killer YA and adult fiction novels these days?

People continue to be engrossed by the idea of serial killers, and part of it is curiosity about such an alien mindset – a murderer’s mind is a strange and disconcerting place, and I think readers are attracted to characters who do alarming and hard-to-predict things on the page. But I also get a little disgruntled that as a society we’re still putting so much emphasis on serial killers – I think the victims get pretty short shrift. So that’s part of why I wanted [“The Killing Code”] to focus on the girls, both the victims of the killer and the girls who solve the mystery. I wanted to draw reader attention to the way Kit, Moya, Violet and Dottie work together as a unit, and rely on each other, and how that solidarity and friendship and love between the girls is integral to how they catch the killer.

Which character can you relate to the most and why?

I’m probably closest to Kit Sutherland, my main codegirl in [“The Killing Code”]– I love her so much! Kit comes from a very poor, uneducated background and she’s taken on the identity of another girl (with her consent) – so in order for Kit to maintain her disguise, she spends a lot of time policing her behavior and presentation to make sure that her class isn’t obvious. She code-switches on multiple levels, which is tied into why she’s such a great codebreaker, and what makes her a perfect detective in pursuit of a killer who’s good at disguising himself. I’m one of the only working class writers I know; I don’t have an MFA or a background in creative writing, and my dad was a prison guard. It takes a lot of work to maintain a writing career if you’re working class, so I guess I feel a lot of sympathy for Kit!

During your time interviewing forensic specialists, what surprised you most about the field that drew you to it?

Probably the thing that first intrigued me about forensics was the idea that the dead can tell a story, so long as someone is prepared to listen close. A dead body holds the secrets of not only the person they once were, but the things that happened to them – usually those secrets are very subtle (even microscopic!) and the pathologist has to be a special kind of person to decode them. The other thing I find intriguing about forensics is the everyday nature of death. When I toured the Westminster Mortuary in London, I had the chance to interview one of the autopsy technicians there, and they were so matter of fact about death – they weren’t hardened or callous, instead they were very humble and forthright and honest about death, and respectful of the people (never ‘the bodies’, always ‘people’) they examined. Although the technician I interviewed said that mentioning her job at parties could be a bit of a conversation-stopper!

What was the process like for your character inspirations?

Oh, I spend a lot of time working out characters for every book I write! It’s not unknown for me to fill up notebook after notebook with details and backstory about the characters, the roles they play, their emotional journeys, the kinds of clothes they wear… I particularly loved writing about the girls’ fashions in [“The Killing Code”]– 1940s fashions are so gorgeous and stylish! I had massive Pinterest boards full of fabulous clothes and spent hours working out how the girls managed to dress so beautifully while they were under ration conditions (it was really hard to get stockings! Girls used to draw stocking seams on with eyebrow pencil, or even paint their legs with gravy to create fake stockings!). But mainly I spend time thinking about how the characters interact with each other and how they’d react in different situations, especially when under stress – knowing your characters all the way down to the bone is really crucial for how the story develops, I’ve always thought.

For readers who have not read your work or genre, what words of wisdom or caution do you have for them?

I would say keep in mind that I write across both thriller and mystery – and my mysteries tend to be a little more fun and romantic than my thrillers, which are very heart-in-your-throat. My previous novel [“None Shall Sleep”] was an absolute rollercoaster, with a frenetic pace, and bloodthirsty intensity up to eleven. But [“The Killing Code”] is much more about the gradual unveiling and discovery of clues, and how my teenage codegirl detectives work together, and it’s just a very different beast. I guess I write a mix of novels to stop myself from getting bored, and to accommodate a wide variety of readers. But those who pick up [“The Killing Code”] and enjoy it might pick up [“None Shall Sleep”] and find it a bit of a shock! I hope there’s something in my writing for everybody.

What can readers look forward to in this novel?

Well, I should put in some trigger warnings for blood and murder and mentions of rape and girls being attacked – it’s good to know about those things in advance. But I think if you’re a fan of:



*murder mysteries

*1940s fashion and cocktails

*World War 2

*girl gangs working as a unit

*sapphic romance

…then you’ll fall hard for [“The Killing Code”]! 

Many thanks to Ellie Marney who answered all my questions beautifully! “The Killing Code” is available online or support  small businesses by checking out independent bookstores. 

Huge thanks to Cassie Malmo from the Little Brown imprint of the Hachette Book Group. This interview would not  have been possible without her offering me this opportunity and acting as mediator between Marney and I. To my new Her Campus team, thanks Kasey for volunteering to be my editor; I can’t wait to geek out with you about these books. Thank you Rachel and Zoya for letting me continue my blog series and helping my transition to NYU feel a lot more like home.

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.