Apologies for being a day later than planned (reading time has been a little scarce recently), but it’s a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl: published by HQ Digital, the ebook and audiobook were published on 3rd November, available for kindle via Amazon in the UK and US, with the paperback to follow on 6th January 2022 (available now for preorder). My usual thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support (and her understanding!), and also to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
You’ll find quite a few reviews of Kath’s lovely books here on Being Anne – just pop her name in my search bar on the right hand side and you’ll find all the reviews. My personal favourite (so far) is The Stationmaster’s Daughter (you’ll find my review here) – but I’ve never read a book from her that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. She’s such an excellent storyteller, effortlessly balancing the contemporary and the historical, making you travel with and believe in her characters, her writing fluent and immensely engaging. But I’ve always had a particular fascination about the secrets of Bletchley Park – I must make 2022 the year when I finally pay a visit – and this was a book I was particularly looking forward to.
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…
A gifted maths student in 1942, Pamela decides to defer her place at Oxford and instead take up the opportunity to contribute to the war effort by working as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. Her granddaughter Julia, running her successful software development company in the present day alongside the demands of her family, knew nothing about Pamela’s history until she found an undeveloped film on a Box Brownie camera, and – with the help of a memoir written by her grandmother’s friend Clarissa – the long-hidden secrets of her wartime life begin to emerge.
Meanwhile, Julia’s own life is rather falling apart – a husband who resents her being the main breadwinner, a family who expect her to do everything around the home on top of her long working days, and problems emerging about her company’s cashflow. Following Pamela’s fascinating history provides her with some escape from her day-to-day problems, and a story emerges of danger and betrayal, a young girl who finds herself caught up in the excitement of a new relationship and ignoring the warning signs.
A dual time story is always something the author does so very well – she has the gift of giving both threads equal weight, making both stories strong and engaging, always with clever mirroring between both threads. The behind-the-scenes view of Bletchley Park’s operations is superbly done, through the eyes and experiences of a young woman entering a world she initially knows nothing about – there’s the joy of new friends, the frisson of new romance, anticipation about the social life available, but also the emphasis on the need to be alert to any risks to security as their day-to-day activities play their part in changing the course of the war. The emphasis in other books I’ve read about Bletchley Park has always been on Turing and Enigma, and it was particularly fascinating to find out more about Colossus – with that nice mirroring when viewing it as an early form of computer, when Julia’s work in IT shows how far technology has moved on.
I must admit that – at first – I was slightly less engaged by the present day story. I’m rarely a fan of reading about the world of work, and there was an early emphasis on the ups and downs of Julia’s business – and I did struggle to like her, finding her particularly prickly at times, rather rubbing everyone’s nose in how successful she was. But as the story progressed, I found myself increasingly in her corner, liking her considerably more – and she certainly shows great strength in working through the issues that beset her. The family set-up is particularly well drawn – husband Marc’s absence of support or engagement (what an infuriating man!) and the two young sons who step up to the plate when their help is needed.
But I entirely loved every twist and turn of the wartime story – Pamela is eminently likeable, and having just left school suitably innocent and naive. There’s a nice focus on the changing roles of women, I very much enjoyed her friendships (Clarissa is a particularly strong character), and her story certainly had me on the edge of my seat at times.
As always, I really enjoyed the author’s story telling – this book is an easy read, but well-paced and compelling, and its dual time structure well-handled to keep the pages turning, immersing you in the secrets of the past while keeping you wholly engaged with the present. A very enjoyable read, and something just a little different from the author’s usual writing – definitely recommended by me.
About the author
Kathleen McGurl lives near the coast in Christchurch, England. She writes dual timeline novels in which a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. She is married to an Irishman and has two adult sons. She enjoys travelling, especially in her motorhome around Europe.