Running Behind Time by Jan Turk Petrie – a wrinkle in time causes issues for Tom and Beth

Running Behind Time by Jan Turk Petrie

Sometimes I find a book that is so compelling that you finish it one sitting – despite the hour. This is one of them. I found this time travel story so fascinating that I was desperate to find out what happened next. Not only was I totally caught up in the story of Beth Sawyer in 1982 and Tom Brookes in 2020, but it left me thinking about some of the themes examined in this wonderful novel. What is it about the times we live in that is so different from forty years ago? Tom is a man who has returned to live with his mother to sit out the pandemic while furloughed, defined by his lack of work, living in a cottage in a small village. Beth is watching an eclipse, feeling that it is a momentous event, aware that it portends change in the July of 1982. Forty years separates them. It is only when an extraordinary set of circumstances come together that they get a glimpse of another world, of different priorities and possibilities, and an encounter that will shape their lives. In a book which immerses the reader in two different time periods, questions are asked about what has changed, and what are the implications for hindsight. I found it a really good novel, and was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.  

Tom is spending his time walking in the countryside, covering considerable distances. His mother spends her time cooking and listening to Classic FM, and is taken aback when he tells her that he is going to travel to London to see a friend about work. She points out that in July 2020 travelling on a train poses a risk, that he will have to cover his face, that when he comes back he will have to stay downstairs, mindful of the risk of spreading the virus to her. Certainly when he gets onto the train he obeys the rules of sitting a distance from others, wearing his scarf in a “desperado” fashion. When everything changes he is appalled that people are crowding around, with no masks in sight, and openly smoking. Beth is a young actress who has just landed a part in a play in a small theatre, and to please the rather pretentious director decides to spend her day off dressed and speaking like her character. This adds to the confusion when her circumstances change, as she is not wearing her usual comfortable clothing, and confuses those around her even more.

There are many clever plot points in this book, but it is also possible to admire it for the casual references to life in the two time periods such as the cars, the music and of course the mobile phones. There is a lot of humour amid the confusion, such as the influence of local gossip, the problems of clothes, and the small details of daily life which are confusing, such as phone boxes. It is in some ways a disconcerting read, or fantasy, but it is grounded in such practical settings that it is perhaps a little unsettling in a good way. I was impressed at how quickly the characters pick up on the new normal in a pandemic, such as the rules about masks and social distancing, and how defining they have become within such a short time. I thoroughly recommend this book for those interested in how this time may be seen, and how the difference of time can affect our views of life.

The Three Locks by Bonnie MacBird – A Sherlock Holmes Prequel of 1887

The Three Locks by Bonnie Macbird

There are many variations on the theme of Sherlock Holmes, but there are several reasons why this prequel to Macbird’s series is a great read. It manages to convey the complexity of the original Conan Doyle’s books and the stunning ability of the great consulting detective to work out what is really going on. It reflects the narrator’s, Dr Watson’s, valuable contribution to cases even when he is exasperated by Holmes’ behaviour and more than a little bewildered by events. For me the really interesting thing is the attitude to women, from Mrs Hudson who is far more likely to rebuke Holmes than in other versions, to the women that the men encounter, who have far more agency than being “women in peril”. This book precedes other three Sherlock Holmes Adventures that Macbird has written, so no previous acquaintance with the series is required, though on the basis of this book I will certainly be looking for the others. The action is fast paced, and does not get slowed by descriptions of the setting and other non- plot diversions, though Macbird is obviously fully immersed in the world of train timetables and other details of life in 1887. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Cambridge at the time, and especially the power of the University and the social differences between students. I really enjoyed this book and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The book begins with the setting of the scene in a hot London, despite the fact that it is late September. Holmes is in a distant mood, seemingly embroiled in some case which does not require Watson’s input. So when he returns and insists that Watson put down a strange box that has just arrived for the doctor, Watson is not pleased. So indignant is he that he leaves Holmes to his own devices for ten days and joins friends in Bath. In his absence the detective has been getting up to new tricks, literally learning to emulate a stage magician and escapologist, new talents that will prove useful. When the formidable Madame Ilaria Borelli turns up she proves to be a volatile person who has skills and complicated tales of passion, injuries and danger which leads to Holmes and Watson learning far more than is perhaps safe. A visit from an anxious young man from Cambridge heralds a whole new field of investigation in which a young woman is at the centre of a range of attachments. Neither investigation will leave either investigator unmarked as they search for the truth among trickery, archery and sundry other dangers.

This book flows quite quickly from scene to scene, as the two men move from stage to college grounds, science laboratory to a dangerous riverside. As soon as I got used to the pace of this novel I found it compelling, as every possible permutation of guilt and innocence, motive and opportunity is tested. As Watson tries to keep up with Holmes, marvelling at his powers of physical endurance as well as his retentive and active brain, I found that each clue and even throwaway comment is part of the overall plotting which is very satisfying. The characters, including those of even minor importance, are well drawn and consistent, including a handcuff wielding policeman. I recommend this lively novel to both Sherlock devotees who will enjoy a version set in the original time frame, and those who are newer to the Holmes story as this book gently introduces two popular heroes.   

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear – London in September 1941 brings new challenges for Maisie Dobbs

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

There are many facets of the Masie Dobbs story – this is the sixteen book that tells of her life and adventures. However, it is so well written that this book stands alone as a story of the Second World War, set in London 1941 when Britain still seems to fear the threat of invasion. When a messenger boy witnesses something which disturbs him even more than the continuous bombing of London which he has been trying to outrun, he turns to Maisie for help as a private investigator. What Freddie and a lot of people do not know is that Maisie is also working with those who are secretly trying to help the French cause, and it is this dangerous work that is making her wonder about all of her relationships.

As with all of Winspear’s novels this book benefits from an impressive amount of research, into the role played by boys who could run fast, the effects of the First World War on the men and women who were there, and the role of the British Secret services during the present conflict. Even without the element of mystery this would be an impressive book of historical fiction, such is Winspear’s sure understanding of the costs of total war. This skilled author never slows the story with extra information, it emerges naturally as part of the narrative. Maisie as always is the central figure, relying on her training from her mentor, her experience and her intuition to make the most of her contacts. Her work is against the background of her love for her daughter, for her family and friends that she has such a strong interest in from long term affection. This book is a wonderful read for Maisie Dobbs fans, but also those coming new to the characters. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

The Prologue sets out the story of Freddie Hackett, a boy who can run fast, knows London and has good reason to be observant and wary. When he witnesses a murder, he reports it to the police, but he knows that they will be difficult to convince without any evidence. He realizes that he must tell “Someone who would believe him.” Meanwhile Maisie is saying a temporary goodbye to her daughter Anna, and dealing with questions about “Uncle Mark”, an American that she is apparently having a relationship with in London. Her return to London from the village where she has gathered those whoshe loves is to discover her assistant embroiled in the cases that he is able to deal with, as well as the plight of Freddie who has been turned away from Scotland Yard. She determines that the boy is not lying, but can see that there is little specific evidence. She meets up with Robert MacFarlane to attend to her secret War work, which is difficult and secret and on this occasion particularly challenging on several levels. It is why she is beginning to wonder if she can really continue with her present life, especially when she gets more evidence of the worse that people are capable of in a time of uncertainty.

This is a brilliantly written book of twists and turns, surprises and revelations. It is a compelling read as it seems effortlessly to combine the challenges faced by a talented woman torn by her loyalty to those she loves and the common effort to do the right thing. I recommend this as a satisfying read, and an excellent addition to the Maisie Dobbs series.

Pluto’s in Uranus! by Patrick Haylock – a surreal look at Dave’s life with a lot of humour

Pluto’s in Uranus by Patrick Haylock

Once there was a man called Dave who had a problem. It sounds like a conventional idea for a story, but when Patrick Haylock writes a novel about it there is very little conventional about it. Dave has a strange outlook on life in this surreal and very funny book about a man just trying to find the money to pay back a work syndicate after he disobeyed their instructions and followed his horoscope that black cats would be lucky. The description of the book says he meets “an intriguing hotchpotch of larger than life characters”, which is an understatement. The characters in this novel of a frantic few days of Dave’s life surely defy description, even though Dave does his best. His parents are memorable, a vicar has an outrageous turn of phrase, and his two companions on a surreal journey combine acceptance of every odd situations with their own memorable contributions. This is a funny, surreal and fast paced book that is always unexpected, and never lingers long over the improbable. Memorable for the right reasons, I was certainly interested to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

Dave is person of habit, compelled to consult his horoscope first thing every morning. On reading that day that black cats and new friendships are on the way, he ineptly decides to place a large bet with other people’s money, a decision he quickly regrets. Given two weeks to remedy the situation, he decides that he must raise funds rather quickly, but not just by a simple bank loan which would have been too predictable for this novel. On consulting online advice, he comes up with a list of money making ideas. He discovers that a church is offering the opportunity to sell unwanted items, so he raids his house for suitable objects. It is this sale which causes him to come into contact with a whole range of characters that have very individual talents. I particularly liked the story of his father, whose lack of success in actually growing vegetables in his garden had been concealed by judicious purchases from the supermarket by his wife and son. To give more away of the plot would be unfair, but suffice to say that a memorable journey by a unique conveyance is well worth waiting for, as well as the people encountered along the way.

This is a unique and very funny book which takes a little getting used to, but is really worth exploring for those who enjoy the different and unusual. Dave is a character who is seen as obsessive, and yet is always well intentioned. I especially enjoyed the church sale, with all of the mistakes that a first time visitor could make, and his luckless encounters with those eager to get a bargain. Those he meets are worth encountering, and their enthusiasm to help in his quest is very funny. Getting advice from the assortment of people he meets is perhaps not the most straightforward way of dealing with the situation, but that certainly contribute to a very funny set of events. This is a memorable and unusual book, and I recommend it to those with a taste for surreal humour.

The End is Where We Begin by Maria Goodin – when memories, the present and the future collide

The End is Where We Begin by Maria Goodin

Jay Lewis is struggling. In this intense novel of twists and turns memories come to the fore, causing some pain and confusion. On the positive side he is the single father of a reasonably well balanced teenager with a group of friends and some family who have formed a mutual support network. He works hard and achieves a reasonable standard of living. He struggles with relationships, but bringing up a son has given him a focus. He has hit a rough patch just now, when Josh is beginning to test boundaries. The memories of a life changing evening are coming back, and there is someone else from whom he wants forgiveness, and there are times when it is all a bit overwhelming. This complex book switches between memories and the present, as themes and images leap forward, as Jay struggles to come to terms with new realisations. Fortunately the author is able to balance them, give clues and elements that soon establish what is happening, where and when, and it becomes a compelling read. The dialogue between the characters is so well written, as teenage boys tease and gently torment each other as a group, as older people try to express their deepest feelings and their current issues, as a son and his father try to reshape their relationship. Jay knows he wants forgiveness for the evening that shaped his life, but also wants to find a woman whose love he has never forgotten. This is a perceptive and remarkable novel for its construction and audacity, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this contemporary novel of life and love.

The book begins with Jay hosting his son Josh’s fifteenth birthday party. As with any parent, despite the fact that Jay is a remarkably young father, he is a bit confused by the assembled group’s obsessions and references, but he is also overwhelmed by memories of his friendship group at the same age, when mentions of a knife had other connotations. His son and their group depart, but he is trying to cope with the vivid memories of an evening when “I remember it was my fault we were running late”, a time when his group were confronted with a terrible sight. His focus then sweeps to a memory of a first kiss, sweets and Libby, a girl who lived on a boat. The focus then goes to the birth of a baby and all the conflicting emotions that caused, of the news that he has a son. Throughout the book the focus switches, giving information to the reader so that they want to find out more. The presence of brilliant and troubled Michael, an older sister who seemed to want different things, a mother who tried to explain.

This writer shows a real skill at making the complex understandable, pressing the reader onwards to link up the disparate elements of the book. I think that Goodin manages it by focusing on Jay, keeping him as a constant throughout what could be a complicated narrative. I really enjoyed piecing together what happened, what he and others felt, how the various situations would resolve themselves. Using such techniques such as attempts at messages, honest and sometimes stumbling conversations, a limited but well described range of settings, this is a book of what feels like life. A truly involving read, this book is a reflection of one person’s struggles to come to terms with the past, cope with the present, and look, however hesitantly, to the future.   

Notebook by Tom Cox – an unusual book of thoughts, observations and surreal messages

Notebook by Tom Cox

From a minor crime (not committed by the author!) to autobiographical insights (“I want my autobiography to truly sum up my life so I’m going to call it The Reason You Can’t Find Your Wallet Is Because It’s In Your Hand”) this is a novel book of short thoughts, longer thoughts and notebook stuff from a very funny and idiosyncratic writer. Tm Cox is a author of several books on life in the country, humour and folklore, short stories and other fiction. This book is in memory of a notebook stolen in a rucksack in a Bristol pub in 2018. While perhaps not an enormous lost to world literature, it did contain the author’s thoughts and observations written down over a period of twelve months. As someone who writes in a notebook or else it didn’t happen, and lists of books, authors and fascinating ideas for further research, I felt sympathy for a loss of a work of personal nature. In a world where people save their thoughts, impressions and observations to social media, there is something to be said for the act of physically writing in a notebook which makes fleeting thoughts solid and captures them for later use. For Tom Cox, writing in a carefully chosen note book is forming a resource for later use, or at least a shopping list. This witty, book of tumbling thought and action is an unusual read, but a wonderfully entertaining little book which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.

This book forms a link to the real memories of a life which collects smudges of mud, the smell of a borrowed dog, the real stuff of life which is more like a printed photograph than an online image. Looking at memorable graves in Norwich cemetery with a an overly ambitious cat attempting to leap the distance between gravestones is one note, which follows an observation of cows who seem reluctant to allow him to walk across their field and sets the style for these pages of sometimes surreal conversations. Surreal messages and stories are the especial domain of the author’s father, who seems to delight in strange disconnected factoids, often transmitted in block capitals. “I saw a dragonfly in Nottingham city centre the other day” is one of the milder ones- a more brutal one involves an axe and a finger eating bird. His mother adopts a quieter and more wistful tone , such as “I’m waking up with an itchy nose and swollen eyes every morning. I think I have to stop the cat sleeping on my face.” Not that Tom himself is beyond the strange observation: in a piece about city noise as opposed to the quietness of country nights, he records that on a walk “I found the cul- de -sac where the ice cream vans sleep at night”. Those who follow Tom on Twitter will recognize some of his shorter comments such as “It’s really hard for countries not to be crap since all the people best qualified to run a country would never in a billion years want to run a country” .

This is an eminently quotable book, with one sided conversations by the author which deal with the small elements of life, the unreliable memories we have of perfect days and more challenging moments. Perfect for a quick read, especially for those who enjoy observing nature in all its variety and people in their sometimes odd moments, this is a lovely book for a friendly gift or an quiet treat.    

Beneath the Visiting Moon by Romilly Cavan – a 1940 novel republished by Furrowed Middlebrow describing the end of an era

Beneath the Visiting Moon eBook: Cavan, Romilly, Moore, Charlotte: Kindle Store

Beneath the Visiting Moon by Romilly Cavan

The setting of a book can sometimes be seen as an extra character in the novel, and undoubtedly the sun dappled, gently decaying eighteenth century ancestral house of Fontayne with its expressive gardens plays its part in Cavan’s final novel. Written and published in 1940, this story of a family in its community has been republished by the wonderful Dean Street Press in the Furrowed Middlebrow series. Not that this book lacks memorable characters; it is mainly centred on seventeen year old Sarah, but also features her immediate family and its friends in a community seemingly filled with unusual people. On the one hand it is a gentle story of Sarah discovering life and love culminating in her eighteenth birthday party, on another it is a family story, with its various members making discoveries about themselves and others. Crucially it is also a story of a community on the brink of world changing events, as the country prepares for war and an entire way of life is disappearing.

Full of the tribulations of teenage life, this novel skillfully records the world through the eyes of Sarah who has little knowledge of the world, Philly as she battles with home made clothes, Christopher, nearly speechless with admiration of an older woman, and Tom, who has an excruciating turn of phrase and the lack of tact that makes him difficult to like. The other main family in this book suffers from all sorts of difficulties, including a daughter whose precociousness threatens to overwhelm everything, especially with her habit of literary quotation which provides the title of this novel. A big book in many senses, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and refer this memorable novel.

The novel opens with Sarah and Philly visiting the village. It marks a shopping trip with inconsistencies, as they have limited funds for many things, but the local shop sells them a bottle of champagne for Mother. They are trying to sell the house in a half hearted way; since the death of their brilliant father the family finances have drifted, and Sarah at least realizes that maintaining an establishment like Fontayne requires more cash than they have access to, certainly if Christopher is to go to Oxford. Elisabeth, widowed mother, is an obsessive flower expert, and anything else is not of interest to her for any length of time. Bracken is a family friend who has always visited, an American with a quiet demeanor, not the glamorous sort that Sarah feels she would have preferred. As time goes on Sarah targets a lonely musician and his children who she feels may want to buy the house, but Julian has apparently other attractions for her mother, and soon she has to spend more time than she perhaps would like in the company of the child prodigy Bronwen with all her literary pretensions. Sarah becomes infatuated with the mysterious Sir Giles, diplomat and a man that represents all the glamour that Sarah could want from life. Treasuring his every word and gesture, she has hopes that she will be lifted from her boring life, and enter true adulthood with his guidance.

This is a book full of pictures convey seemingly effortlessly by this skilled writer. The fading house, a grim London flat, dances and parties full of the realities of shyness and small jealousies. The characters are so well described as to waken real reactions to them; the self satisfied Mrs Oxford, the imaginative Emily, the challenging younger people who unwittingly ruin so many of Sarah’s illusions. It perhaps represents the end of an era, an age of comparative innocence, before the stark realities of a war which would change so much forever. I recommend this book for its capturing of a young woman’s life, a family’s progress, and a looking back on a time without the benefit of hindsight of what may survive.

The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood – an atmospheric story of a young woman taking risks in a Victorian world

The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

An incredibly atmospheric novel for a debut work, this book uses all the techniques of using the senses to describe a nearly there presence. Set mainly in a vaguely Victorian town house, where the damp and mold suggest disease and creeping decay, this is a book of the unexplainable, the opposite of the fairy tales the protagonist so loves. Eleanor was not always an overworked house maid, knowing what her master Mr. Pembroke is capable of where young women are concerned.  Her memories of his late wife are associated with better treatment, and she remembers especially the reading and writing she was encouraged to spend times doing, before her hands became work roughened. The library is her refuge, her way of escaping the claustrophobic household, where she feels vulnerable on so many levels. The amazing offer that she is made of seven wishes seem set to transform her life, but at a cost she cannot understand. Everything is seen through Eleanor’s eyes, even if she does not narrate the novel, but there seems to be more going on under the surface of this multidimensional novel. I found it a curious and compelling read, with its quicksilver sightings of a woman, a fear inducing step outside the room, the hints of blood in unexpected places. Mysterious and disturbing in a good way, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this remarkable book.

When the book begins it describes how Eleanor creeps around a house at night that she used to have the run of, particularly to enter the library and read of places that she was once destined to visit with Mrs. Pembroke. As she returns to her room she has vivid dreams, but wakes to dampness all around, a chipped jug, and worst of all, her friend Leah, victim of Mr. Pembroke’s attacks, struggling into a corset in an attempt to conceal her pregnancy. As each maid in the house leaves under similar circumstances, she knows that it will soon be her turn for unwanted attention, or that he will turn his gaze to innocent Aoife. Feeling hopeless at her state, the chance to make wishes to free herself from the situation seems so tempting, if only it could be true. The cost is difficult to understand, and maybe if she is careful, thinks through what she actually wants and needs, she will be fine. Not that she will get much time, as events overtake her, as people move on with their lives, and Granborough House declines.

This is a book remarkable for its success in maintaining the sense of menace throughout, of subtly reminding the reader of the underlying threat to Eleanor, of the very real presence of other possibilities. The writing is exceptional, as it proceeds apace through the rooms of a house heavy with despair, as the small hints of clothing, physical objects, sore hands and so much more while addressing the overall themes. The library is a place of refuge, yet is also the scene of inner turmoil. Eleanor is an amazing character, strong yet vulnerable, pitted against forces she struggles to understand. I found this an engaging book on so many levels, and recommend it as an intense read of a young woman’s dilemmas.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – Women separated by time but all with life changing motives

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Life can be dangerous for women, whether that is in 1791 or the present day. Both have to struggle to make their mark, leave a legacy behind. Nella is an apothecary who offers cures only to women from her cramped hidden quarters in London, recording their names in her ledger. Caroline is discovering in the present day that an American life of stability is not all that it seems, and that maybe she has to look for the inconsistencies to find a way through her dilemmas. As the vivid narrative swings between two time periods, it seems that women must act together in order to make discoveries that can change lives and leave the mark of their trials. As Nella makes her way round a place which encloses her in secrets of the past as she deals with women who want the ultimate solution to their troubles, she is confronted by a surprising girl who is eager to learn. Caroline has travelled to London to consider a betrayal, and discovers secrets of the past which leap forward into the present day. This is a book of research on several levels, as Eliza must learn how to help with secrets, Caroline wants to reveal the tantalizing story behind an inconspicuous vial, and the author has completed a huge amount of research in order to find the age old secrets of poisons and the uses of natural ingredients. It is a powerful book of what women choose to do, and the possible effects of their actions. I found it an exciting and entrancing novel, and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

 The book begins with Nella reading a letter requesting a poison, for a woman to kill her husband. The disturbing request is one thing, the fact that the person who comes to pick up the poisoned egg is a twelve year old girl is surprising. Nella has seen  to be shocked; she has spent her entire life in a cramped room, among the jars of ingredients, learning from her mother the combinations of herbs plants and even creatures that can heal women’s ailments. The difference is in the cures that she now offers, the poisons that can stop a man from living, from damaging further the lives of women and girls desperate enough to consult her. She dispenses help, receives money, records the women’s names in her book. Now it seems as if pain is being manifested in her body and mind, as she remembers why she went beyond her mother’s practice. Caroline is a young woman once deeply in love with the literature of another age, the history of thought in a time when women had fewer options. Not that she has explored many for herself; impressed by James at college, she falls in with his plans to marry and live a safe, predictable life, denying her interest and ability in research. It is only when she arrives in London, overwhelmed by a life changing discovery, that she is urged to look for the different, to be open to the possibility of more than what happens on the surface. As Eliza becomes involved in Nella’s work, Caroline feels compelled to discover more, even when it seems likely to upset everything.

This is a deeply atmospheric story of discovery and fear, of pushing against the bounds of roles and expectations, of determination and solidarity. I found it a brilliantly researched novel that that never slowed down the narrative to deliver no doubt hard won facts. There are even poisons and cures detailed at the back of the book, not to be confused! I found Caroline’s progress fascinating, and became involved in her hunt for the truth. Nella’s story reflects the desperate need to acknowledge women’s situations in the late eighteenth century and for much of history. This is a wonderful debut in historical and contemporary fiction, and I recommend it.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn – three young women discover secrets of war and beyond

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Three women doing a vital job, the absolute need for secrecy, and the losses of a war are all themes of this powerful novel. When a debutante, an ambitious Londoner and an abused young woman share a billet near the secret Bletchley Park in 1940, they have little or no idea of the outcomes of the secrets they must keep, or the risks they must take. This is a sophisticated novel that moves between the beginning of the work of Bletchley Park in cracking the codes which affected the British War effort so significantly, and the build up to a royal wedding in 1947 that proves to be a landmark in postwar life. Quinn has combined research into the minutiae of the work carried out by the women in the secret setting and life during the Second World War with a powerful insight into the life of women during the mid twentieth century. Her combination of characters in wealthy Osla, intense Mab and obsessive Beth is ambitious one that goes beyond a simple description of women working together; each has secrets and priorities that balance on the edge of tragedy. When one of the women finds herself in appalling circumstances it leads to difficult decisions for many people which has effects beyond the expected. As betrayal and danger emerge in a world beyond Bletchley, all the skills that the women have gained must be called on as they fight to crack one last code. This is a big book which reveals a lot of research, but Quinn has combined it into a compelling narrative of passion and war. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable novel.  

The novel swings between two time periods; one beginning in the Prologue in 1947, and another begins with the narrative in 1939. The first establishes that Osla Kendall, wealthy Canadian socialite and writer has just received an encrypted message as she prepares to attend the Royal Wedding of a Prince to a Princess. Eight years earlier Mab Churt is reading a book in order to improve herself, desperate as she is to rise higher than her working class background, cultivating the accent and attitudes that she hopes will eventually mean a better job and a wealthy husband. When the invitation to comes to travel to Bletchley Park she meets Osla, and both are bewildered as to how their work will truly make a difference. When they meet their landlady’s daughter they convince her to join the mysterious work at the Park, and Beth discovers her true vocation, the all encompassing world of deciphering code. As time goes on Osla discovers that even romance can be dangerous in a war, Mab meets a nearly silent man who discovers secrets, and Beth is so involved in the nearly mystical obsession with letters that she has entered a new way of life. As tragedies and secrets begin to overlap, time becomes a huge factor in the lives of young woman for whom nothing will ever be the same.

This is the sort of book that offers a really memorable reading experience. As befits a book of secrets and codes, there is so much to discover in its twists and turns, but most of all there is so much to learn about women and some men sworn to secrecy in matters of life and death. I found it to be a profound and somewhat unsettling book, in a good way, that makes some sense of the work actually done in a place which has only relatively recently been open to the public. The portraits of the three women are fascinating in their variety, and I recommend this big book as giving the space and time to learn about their special stories.