Sunday, February 23, 2020

Abandoned Books and Secret Codes

from Janet Marsh of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries 
by Molly MacRae

A box of old books arrived on our doorstep at Yon Bonnie Books. As a rule, we don’t take them, but these arrived like foundlings—abandoned with only a few clues about where they came from. 

Many of them are first editions dating from the 30s and 40s, but a kind way to describe them is well-loved. One of them is quite a bit older. The Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper, MD, is a reproduction of the 1653 original. Ours, if we can call it ours, was published in 1850. It’s quite delicate. Only the spine is holding it together. The pages are stained and marked throughout with notes in ink and pencil, in various hands, the way an old cookbook might be.  

The books took a back burner after Malcolm and Gerald Murray’s deaths, but as that mystery unfolded, we began to wonder. Had the books belonged to the Murray brothers when they were children? Tallie and Summer decided to look at them more closely, and they’ve discovered something. A series of underlined words in the Culpeper is a key to a substitution code, and there are coded messages written in the margins of several of the other books.

Substitution codes are some of the easiest to crack. Here’s the key in Culpeper.
Tallie and Summer found the brothers’ names written in the code. Do you see how it works?

It’s the kind of code that appeals to kids, and this one would have been especially wicked fun for a couple of boys. Because of the passage they chose for the key, the nonsense generated sounds like drunken poetry. But the question now is, if we decode the margin notes, will they help us solve the murders?  

Here’s a question for you, too. Can you decode what I’ve written below?

Thistles and Thieves, book 3 in the Highland Bookshop Mysteries, is available in hardback, e-book, and audiobook in bookstores and online, and in libraries. 

The women of Yon Bonnie Books return in the latest Highland Bookshop Mystery, now embroiled in the death of a local doctor, which sets off a chain of other curious—and deadly—events.

 Molly MacRae writes the award-winning, national bestselling Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries and the Highland Bookshop Mysteries. Visit Molly on Facebook and Pinterest, connect with her on Twitter  or Instagram.


  1. Thank you for the code puzzle. That was fun!

  2. Drank body for thistle
    Care merry many
    Body superfluous out wine
    Superfluous fear!
    Thanks for stopping by, Riley.

  3. Oh gracious this is magnificent
    What super fun
    Thanks for bringing it to us.

    Kathy levernier