The world of detecting and spying has long been a fertile ground for authors of adventure stories. However there has been a steady increase, particularly about the 20th century World Wars, since much of the information is no longer covered by the Official Secrets Act. After all, we knew nothing about Bletchley Park and similar organizations, until at least the 1970s. I have just included some of my favourite books from the last year or so and I hope that readers will find them as fascinating as I have. These fictional events can lead you on to discover the real life heroes of the past.
“I Spy” by Rhian Tracey is an exciting and fascinating look at the lives of a young girl and her family, living at Bletchley Park during the war. The story centres around 12 year old Robyn, who has to leave school for security reasons and finds herself working with the pigeon loft manager at Bletchley, looking after messenger pigeons. When it appears that there is a traitor on site, Robyn and her friends decide to investigate, because adults rarely take note of what children are doing! I am delighted to say that I have just seen advance notice of a second adventure called “Hide and Seek” which will be published in February 2024. This would make an excellent introduction to the work that was being undertaken at Bletchley during the war.
“Friends and Traitors” by Helen Peters is a fantastic but quite easy to read story of life in a country house during the war. It portrays the action from the differing perspectives of Nancy, a housemaid and Sidney, an evacuated schoolgirl, who is there with the rest of her boarding school. Also there are the owner (an Earl) and a group of his friends. When the girls overhear some worrying conversations they each decide to take action, only discovering each other’s plans along the way. Are there people plotting against the British government and what can the girl do to thwart their plans? I have to say thank you to Helen Peters for the lovely shock I received on reading the name of one of the minor characters from the past; it is not often that you find your own name being used in this way and it means I will treasure the book.
“Rosie Raja: Mission to Cairo” by Sufiya Ahmed is the second adventure featuring this heroine and this time she manages to follow her father to Cairo and ends up being part of a mission to seek out traitors. Whilst this is mainly a spy story, it also focuses on the role of the British as an imperial power and on the rights of the Egyptian people to self determination. The first book in the series is called “Rosie Raja: Churchill’s Spy” and is an exciting introduction to this brave young heroine.
“Safiyyah’s war” by Hiba Noor Khan takes a look at a little known part of the war in France and that was the part played by the Muslim community in helping their Jewish neighbours and the allied soldiers to escape from the Nazis, especially in the area around Paris. Look on this blog for a full review as part of the blog tour. A fabulous read. I have just seen that there is an information book about this series of events. I have ordered it and will add this to the blog at a later date.
“The Ministry of Unladylike Activity” by Robin Stevens is the first in the follow on series from this author. It centres around the adventures of May Wong, the younger and very precocious sister of Hazel Wong, who was a central character in the series “Murder most Unladylike”. May is now following her sister to Deepdean school and hates it. However the war has begun, so she cannot return home to Hong Kong and decides to try and become a spy and of course she ends up in all kinds of trouble, as she and her friends pretend to be evacuees, in order to seek out traitors at a stately home. A second adventure “Body in the Blitz” is due for release in October 2023. I have just read this on Netgalley and it is definitely a case of ‘get your orders in now’ for this fabulous book. Robin Stevens just keeps getting better (impossible though that sounds).
“Alice Éclair, Spy Extraordinaire!: A Sprinkling of Danger” by Sarah Todd Taylor and Beatriz Castro is the third in a fabulous series featuring the young |Alice Eclair. The stories are set in Paris between the two wars and whilst Alice officially works in her mother’s Patisserie, she has also been recruited by the secret services, after her uncle turned traitor. These stories mix danger and a hint of glamour as the heroine is involved in the worlds of fashion, film and aeronautics. In this latest adventure Alice finds herself working undercover, as part of the catering team whilst a film is being made at the Palace of Versailles I really recommend these great stories, both for the action and for the descriptions of the cakes.
“Secret Breakers Series” by H L Dennis. This is a series of six novels set after the war but with the main characters having links back to the wartime events at Bletchley Park. However there are hints about mysteries that are far older and which no one has been able to interpret so far. It is a series full of intrigue and adventure which has managed to stand the test of time.
For those who want to delve deeper into the real-life adventures of espionage and war, here are a few titles to start you off.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix. Holiday House Inc, 978-0823423040
Noor Inayat Khan by Sufiya Ahmed. Scholastic, 978-0702300059
Spies, Code Breakers and Secret Agents: A WW II book for kids, by Carole P Roman. Rockridge Press, 978-1646111015
Heroes of World War II.. by Kelly Milner Halls. Rockridge Press, 978-1648763786
“Spies (Horrible Histories) by Terry Deary and Martin Phillips. Scholastic, 978-1407105673.