Like Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky which I read last year, this is a gripping story about the agents and code-breakers of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. At its centre is Kay Eberstern, British-born wife of a Danish landowner. Like John Campbell in Johanna Lane’s debut novel, Black Lake, Bror’s attachment to his ancestral lands has led him to go against his wife’s wishes, in this case by signing a declaration of goodwill towards the occupying Nazis. This crack in the marriage widens when Kay is persuaded to provide a refuge for an SOE agent, drawing her into a world of secrets and subterfuge which endangers not only her relationship with Bror, but the entire family.
Meanwhile, over in England, Ruby Ingram channels her fury over the fact that, as a woman, she couldn’t be awarded the degree she had earned from Cambridge University, into her efforts to improve the safety of agents in the field.
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This is a novel to read for the cast of noble (but flawed) characters, its realistic take on organisational inefficiency and the insights it provides into an important and terror-filled chapter of European history. I did wonder at the title, however, which sounds like the prelude to a mammoth gossip session rather than an allusion to information characters must guard with their lives (although in the voice of Bing Crosby it tells different story). Perhaps it’s just me, but I suspect it might be designed to avoid scaring off a middle-of-the-road readership.
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Charli Mills got me thinking about the silence that is needed to keep a secret. But the prompt – to write a 99-word story in which sound is the harbinger of change – took me back to the topic of I Can’t Begin to Tell You as represented by the cover image. Part fanfiction, part homage to those brave women and men of the resistance movement:
Though the hoot of the train brought relief, she maintained a mask of indifference as it loomed into view clouded with steam. The weight of the crystal radio had all but wrenched her arm from its socket but she held the case as if it contained nothing more than some lacy lingerie and a freshly starched blouse. Five minutes, ten at most, and she’d be safe.
The thud of jackboots on paving rose above the hiss of brakes. A carriage door swung open. Before she could reach it, the soldier raised his rifle and roared down the platform: “Halt!”