Her Secret War by Pam Lecky
Sarah Gillespie is a young woman in trouble in this historical novel with an intense story of deceit, loss and much more. It is May 1941, and although Sarah lives in neutral Dublin, a stray bombing raid threatens her life and changes it forever. When the man she loves leaves to enlist with the idea that their relationship is over, her decision to move to England comes with its own problems and challenges. Can she cope in a world which seems to be dedicated to the war effort, but also poses a test of her own loyalty and bravery?
This is a wartime novel which enters the territory of thriller as a young woman desperately tries to do the right thing, while risking everything. From the loss of her family to discovering relatives who genuinely care for her is an interesting theme, but it is when a mysterious demand to complete a special mission emerges that Sarah is really tested; can her honesty, courage and resourcefulness be enough to ensure her survival, and at what cost to those around her? This is a brilliantly constructed novel with enough twists and surprises to satisfy any reader, as well as showing the author’s real talent for creating characters that really succeed in terms of realism. The setting of wartime England and the work of a special office is well described, with immense research into even the tiny details, but which never interrupts the narrative. I enjoyed the dialogue, especially between cousins Martin and Sarah. Overall this is a powerful and intense book of “love and espionage” which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.
Sarah’s story begins on a dark night in Dublin, where she is upset after her boyfriend Paul O’ Reilly has revealed his secret plans to enlist in the RAF in England. He must keep it a secret not just because of his family’s concern about danger; Pat, his father “is a fierce IRA man, same as our Da.” Sarah has no secrets from her younger sister Maura, who she has brought up following their mother’s early death. Their father Jim is a violent bully who spends his time and money in the pubs of Dublin with doubtful associates. Sarah is aware that even on a night which is full of the sound of German planes overhead he will not concern himself with his daughters’ welfare, but will be angry if she is absent when he returns the worse for drink. Sarah tries to reassure Maura and herself that Ireland’s neutrality will keep Dublin safe from enemy bombing, but tragically on this night she is proved wrong. Sarah is left with nothing and no family in an instant, and when Paul insists on disappearing she is left with no option but to seek refuge with her uncle and family in England. Her welcome there is better than her greatest expectation, especially when it comes with a job that enables her to feel that she is really contributing to the war effort. A secret challenge to her safety then invades her life and leaves her struggling to see what to do; she wants revenge on the enemy, but at what cost?
This novel seems to begin as a romantic saga of a young woman being challenged in life and love, but soon becomes something much richer and exciting. I really enjoyed this engaging book with its picture of a young woman facing many dilemmas and the aspects of a wartime thriller which are well handled. Altogether I recommend this book for its construction, its tension, and its picture of a young woman facing enormous challenges.