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Saturday, 6 November 2021

REVIEW: The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl




The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl
Genre: Historical fiction, Wartime fiction, Contemporary fiction, Dual timeline, WW2
Read: 3rd November 2021
Published: 3rd November 2021

★★★★ 4.5 stars

DESCRIPTION:

A country at war. A heartbreaking betrayal.
 
1942. Three years into the war, Pam turns down her hard-won place at Oxford University to become a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. There, she meets two young men, both keen to impress her, and Pam finds herself falling hard for one of them. But as the country’s future becomes more uncertain by the day, a tragic turn of events casts doubt on her choice – and Pam’s loyalty is pushed to its limits…
 
Present day. Julia is struggling to juggle her career, two children and a husband increasingly jealous of her success. Her brother presents her with the perfect distraction: forgotten photos of their grandmother as a young woman at Bletchley Park. Why did her grandmother never speak of her time there? The search for answers leads Julia to an incredible tale of betrayal and bravery – one that inspires some huge decisions of her own…


MY REVIEW:

I first discovered Kathleen McGurl a couple of years ago with "The Forgotten Secret" and absolutely loved it. I have since read and also enjoyed "The Lost Sister" and now I can add THE GIRL FROM BLETCHLEY PARK to the list. Of course most people know about Bletchley Park's involvement during the second world war, so with that in mind it also ticked the box of being wartime fiction as well as my much favoured dual timeline story. Unlike other dual timelines though, THE GIRL FROM BLETCHLEY PARK weaves two compelling tales together that, whilst being entwined, are also completely separate. Intrigued?

The story begins in the present day with Julia, mother of two boys Oscar (14) and Ryan (12), juggling her flailing marriage and a successful IT business. The downside of running such a business, particularly when it is situated in the home, is that you never really leave work behind at the end of the day. And as much as Julia tried to do so things had a way of grabbing her attention and thus her then having to deal with it. It was one thing her husband of fifteen years Marc loathed, feeling as though she was never really present even when she was. But he also as jealous of the fact that she was the main breadwinner in the family with her salary purchasing their substantial home as well as paying the mortgage. He never outwardly admitted it but the sentiment was there, as were his frequent absences citing work as his excuse.

It was during one of these absences that Julia's brother Bob, who was a commercial pilot, popped in for a visit with a treasure trove of goodies for his sister that he'd found stashed in the home he inherited in Devon. Bob had decided to sell since he was never there and came across some old photos and mementos he thought his sister might be interested in. Some were photos of their late grandmother with the renowned Bletchley Park in the background. The photos, having been taken during the war years, left them wondering what it was their grandmother Pamela had been doing there since it certainly wouldn't have been open to the public during the war years. 

Bletchley Park was the site of one of Britain's most prolific secret code breaking headquarters during the war. Anyone who had worked there had to sign the Offical Secrets Act and were sworn to absolute secrecy about the work they had done there...even long after the war had ended. So upon seeing their grandmother standing in front of Bletchley House with a few friends, one of which was also their grandfather, intrigued Julia and Bob wondering just how involved they were at Bletchley. Julia endeavoured to look into it in an attempt to uncover her grandmother's role during the war. When she contacted her gran's best friend's daughter Caroline, she was excited to learn that Caroline's mother Clarissa, with whom Pamela had worked alongside at Bletchley, had written a memoir in the 1990's revealing the nature of their work and lives in and around Bletchley.

It's 1942 and Pamela had just finished school and was preparing to take her place at Oxford reading mathematics when her teacher had called her aside and offered her something in which she could both use her mathematical brain and do something for the war effort for Britain. She gave her a name and instructions to follow up and without telling her parents Pamela made her way to Buckinghamshire for an interview. She was offered the job immediately and signed the Official Secrets Act and was inducted along with her fellow interviewees to become Wrens, beginning work in just a few days' time.

Deferring university until the end of the war, Pamela could only tell her family that she had joined the Wrens and would be working for the war effort. They seemed to understand the need for secrecy and respected that. Her brother Geoff had joined the RAF and was training as a fighter pilot, which worried both her and her parents alike as the life expectancy for a fighter pilot was very short.

Upon arrival at Bletchley, Pamela became friends with Clarissa whom she met at the interviews, and the two women were billeted together at nearby Woburn Abbey, a former stately home, though their jobs within Bletchley were at different ends of the scale. Not long after beginning work there, Pam met a handsome blonde man she'd seen lurking nearby on the day of her interview. She'd caught his eye on more than one occasion and he had offered her a tentative smile. She soon discovered he was a gardener at the house in which she was billeted unable to fight due to his asthma and his name was Frank Miller. The couple soon began to step out together, meeting up on days off whenever they could, and Pam felt herself beginning to fall for Frank. But when he started asking questions about her work, she could do nothing but fob him off with the answer they had been instructed to give. She was a secretary. He seemed satisfied with that and said no more. 

Pamela was not without her suitors because although she was stepping out with Frank, she also held the interest of a much shyer and quieter colleague Edwin Denham. So much so Clarissa teased her about it. Pamela enjoyed Edwin's friendship but it was Frank she was enamoured with; a fact that was made obvious when they went to their first dance and while she had promised to dance with Edwin, it was with Frank she had spent most of her time. I kind of felt a little sorry for Edwin, fading into the background against the flashier more charismatic Frank.

But when it came down to it, Pamela found that it was Edwin she called on for help and advice. It was Edwin whose advice she valued and trusted. So then in the face of it, who would Pamela choose out of her two suitors?

THE GIRL FROM BLETCHLEY PARK is an easy and enjoyable read but I must say it is so difficult to review without the hint of spoilers! lol I love dual timeline stories but generally when reading them there is always one story I'm invested in more than the other...and that's usually the historical one. And I have to admit that when Julia's story began I was somewhat irritated by her lazy family's attitude, expecting her to pick up after them and wait on them whilst running her own business. Then to be bamboozled by the ins and outs of her IT business. I had little interest...until it began to get interesting. And then it had my attention. I couldn't decide then which timeline I preferred and both stories were equally compelling and intriguing. I did, however, find the technical aspects of Bletchley a little above my head and the very unmathematical part of was a little lost in part but the rest of the story was wholly engrossing.

The story unfolds in alternate chapters between Julia and Pam respectively, each revealing just a little bit more with each chapter. It was in part largely predictable but not unenjoyable. The twists weren't unexpected and I correctly figured them out along the way but then this wasn't a mystery either. I did find it similar in storyline to "The Secrets of Latimer House" by Jules Wake which I read a couple of months ago and thoroughly enjoyed...maybe a little more than this one, admittedly. But having said that, THE GIRL FROM BLETCHLEY PARK is still wonderfully written with the right amount of suspense and intrigue interwoven with the historical aspect.

Overall, THE GIRL FROM BLETCHLEY PARK is captivating and compelling with both timeline plots interwoven seamlessly in relation to the other.The conclusion I felt was a little rushed and would have preferred to end on the historical timeline rather than Julia's. That and the slow start to Julia's story knocks off just a meagre half star as the rest of the story made up for it.

Perfect for fans of dual timelines and authors such as Lorna Cook, Suzanne Kelman and Suzanne Goldring.

I would like to thank #KathleenMcGurl, #Netgalley, #HQStories and #RachelsRandomResources for an ARC of #TheGirlFromBletchleyPark in exchange for an honest review.



MEET THE AUTHOR:

Kathleen McGurl lives in Christchurch, UK, with her husband. She has two sons who have both now left home.

Kathleen always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has published several novels with HQ and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women's magazines, and written three How To books for writers.

After a long career in the IT industry she became a full time writer in 2019. When she's not writing, she's often out running, slowly.

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