The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair

‘The only information you need right now is that if you pass this test, you will be involved in an operation that is integral to helping the Allies win this war.’

Brisbane, 1943. Elanora (Ellie) O’Sullivan works as an engineer for Qantas Empire Airways. She is part of the team keeping allied planes in the air, transporting supplies to Australian troops in New Guinea. Ellie has left family in Longreach and boards with Mrs Hanley in Brisbane, sharing a room with her friend Kat Arnold.

Ellie’s dedication to her work does not go unnoticed, and she is approached by Lieutenant Andrews to join the Central Bureau. Her work, as part of the codebreaking team (working in conjunction with Bletchley Park operatives) is top secret, and subject to the Official Secrets Act. Ellie must undertake never to tell anyone about the work she is undertaking.

The team of women, calling themselves ‘the Garage Girls’ work in a converted garage at Nyrambla house in Henry Street, Ascot. Their work involves decoding intercepted Japanese messages: highly stressful work, where a mistake can cost lives. The need to maintain secrecy makes personal relationships difficult for Ellie (and the other women). And not everyone is strong enough to do so.

Ms Sinclair recreates the challenges of life for this generation of young women at the forefront of Australia’s domestic war effort. Women’s roles changed, not without considerable resistance from some quarters, and many of the women (including Ellie) had lost loved ones.

And once the war was over? What would the future hold?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The main characters stepped out of the pages for me, and I appreciated the research Ms Sinclair undertook to bring this novel to life. While I’ve read about Bletchley Park, I had never heard of the work undertaken by Australian Women Army Service (AWAS) staff in the garage at Nyrambla.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith