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Review of 'The Girl From Bletchley Park' - Kathleen McGurl

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…

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This is a split timeline, historical thriller. Pretty much my favourite kind of book. There's also an added sprinkling of romance, although this is very much in the background and is only included where it's necessary to the plot. Otherwise, the thriller element is very much the focus of the narrative. There is tension present in both narratives, but more so in the historical sections. Whilst this isn't the kind of book that will have you turning pages quicker and quicker as the tension rises, it definitely holds your interest right to the end. The plot twists are flagged up quite early on and I had a fair idea where the plot was heading, but at no point did it ever feel that there was no point continuing - just because you know the destination doesn't mean you can't enjoy the journey, after all!

McGurl's writing style is easy and engaging and she certainly knows how to evoke sympathy for her characters. I immediately identified with how Julia's day begins. The mental load is something I think all women can identify with - my husband does a lot around the house, but I'm the one who has to know where everyone is meant to be and when and how they're going to get there. Physically it's not particularly a challenge, but trying to keep track of four people's schedules when one works long hours and only two can drive, is definitely a mental challenge. This is exacerbated as women move into the menopause - and I assume from the age of Julia's children that she is meant to be slightly older than me, so she definitely falls into this category - and brain fog descends. When we are meant to be at our most efficient and responsible in terms of our age, our brains often begin to let us down. As a writer, words are the tools of my trade but already I have times when I simply cannot think of the most basic word to describe something!

Age and responsibility going hand in hand is a theme which is addressed in the historical plot as well. There is a real juxtaposition of naivety and sense engendered in Pam. Her role at Bletchley and her understanding of the need to keep her job a secret means that it is often easy to forget that she is only 18 and very inexperienced in life. It is in her relationship with Frank that this side of her character is most in evidence. However, all of it just goes to show what a burden of responsibility was placed on the shoulders of the young during the Second World War. My father joined up when he was just 17 - only a year older than my eldest son is now. I cannot imagine sending him off to fight in a war when he can barely manage to cook himself a meal. He is still a child. My dad didn't have to sign the Official Secrets Act, but having got his war record many years after his death, I have so many questions that I want to ask him and can't, so I completely sympathise with Julia's need to piece together her family history.

This is the first of McGurl's books that I've read and I've already added some of her others onto my Wishlist ready for next year.

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.

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