REVIEW: A TIME OF SECRETS BY DEBORAH BURROWS

A TIME OF SECRETS

Author: Deborah Burrows
Pan Macmillan RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

A Time of Secrets

I met Deborah Burrows back in 2012 when she was a guest author at Stories on Stage. She had just released her first book, A Stranger in My Street, a murder-mystery-romance set in Perth in the 1940s. What impressed me then was her knowledge of, and clear fascination with, the history of the time. In A Time of Secrets, this fascination with wartime Australia continues, but this murder-mystery is set in Melbourne. I’m not sure if there was a marketing decision behind that (a Melbourne setting may be thought to have more overseas and/or domestic appeal) or whether Burrows has a personal interest in Melbourne and simply wanted a change of scene.

A Time of Secrets is a story of truth, lies, revenge, secrets, national security and murder, with a bit of love and romance thrown in there as well. The American soldiers are in town, drawing the ire of the Australian men, as they attract the women with gifts, flattery and the promise of fun nights on the town. Although Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is wary of men after a difficult first marriage, she is happy to dance at night, but keep romance at arms’ length. When she meets Staff Sergeant Eric Lund, she has mixed feelings – he is very attractive, but something about him reminds her of her late husband.

There’s little time for romance anyway. There’s a traitor in the midst of the Australian Intelligence Bureau and Stella has been seconded to work with Lieutenant Nick Ross, who has a history with Eric, to uncover the responsible party. When she overhears soldiers whispering about a revenge killing she wonders what its connection is to the investigation, but to find out, she has to put herself in the firing line. To do otherwise is unthinkable: Eric’s team has deployed in a dangerous mission to the South West Pacific, and if Stella doesn’t find out the truth his life, and the security of Australia itself, will be at risk.

Burrows delivers an interesting and intriguing read that not only offers an insight into Australian wartime life, but also looks into themes of domestic violence, friendship and relationships, with the murder-mystery and love triangle aspects adding to the tension of the latter part of the book. I could relate to Stella’s reactions, and applauded her for trying to help one of her colleagues, who was caught up in an abusive relationship. It’s an important message – don’t look the other way.

Although I found the story line slowed for a while in the second half, the murder and resulting drama, and the emerging love triangle picked things up for me. Overall, though, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to readers of wartime historical fiction.

While reading this, I remembered that a lovely person donated an original 1940s Australian Women’s Army jacket and hat to the costume department at my work. I couldn’t find the hat … but here’s me in the jacket.

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Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. My copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia.

Bookish treat: It was overcast outside so I made popcorn … and ate three bowls!