Deborah Burrows – A Time of Secrets

On reading selfishly.
I’ve just finished reading Deborah Burrows’ A Time of Secretsa novel that I picked up because…well…the cover caught my eye. So yes, I did judge a book by it’s cover, but for very good reason. The woman on the cover is wearing a WWII era AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) uniform and I am currently working on a PhD which will be a novel and exegesis focusing on some AWAS members. So of course I plucked the book off the shelf and added it to my ever growing ‘to read’ pile. At this stage of my PhD the majority of my reading has been non-fiction so it was wonderful to come across a novel set in the same era with similar themes.
A Time of Secrets is set in 1943 in Melbourne, with protagonist Stella Aldridge who is an AWAS sergeant working in the Australian Intelligence Bureau. Stella has two important mysteries to solve –  In chapter one she overhears some soldiers discussing a plot for a revenge killing which she determines to investigate, and then her work leads her to another mystery – who is leaking information from the Intelligence Bureau to the enemy? Weaved around these two key plots is romance, murder and the ongoing sense of good-guy/bad-guy with the reader constantly switching loyalties between Stella’s friends and love interests as more secrets are exposed.
This novel was a chance for me to read selfishly. While I read historical fiction quite widely and always take note of how research is woven into the text, I haven’t read any books that draws from the same (or similar) pool of research documents. The women I will be focusing on worked in the Survey Corps in Bendigo, so while there is a big difference in our plots and characterisations it was great to absorb the general mise en scene of WWII Melbourne – the rations, the music and of course, the Americans.
It also got me thinking about the publishing trends for a novel of this type. I’ve been lamenting the lack of representation of women’s war experience in Australia, in both popular culture and formal histories (by ‘lack’ I don’t mean that there is no representation, I just mean that it is minimal – but that’s a post for another time). So it was great to see that there was some shelf space for a novel like this and gave me some hope that mine might also find some space there one day.
Deborah Burrows, A Time of Secrets, Pan Macmillan Australia. 2015.