Secrets and Shadows

Written by Brian Gallagher
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1941. When twelve-year-old Grace Ryan’s Dublin home is bombed, she goes to live with her grandfather and uncle in another part of the city. There she meets Barry Malone, an evacuee from the Nazi saturation bombing of Liverpool. They both go to the same new school and are now neighbours as well.

At first, Barry finds it difficult to settle in. The class bully, Shay McGrath, has it in for him. He has other worries, too. His mother is still in Liverpool, working in a Munitions factory now relocated outside the city; his father is fighting with the navy; and his Uncle George is a P.O.W.

Then Barry and Grace become friends and he begins to settle down. The summer looks at though it might be fun with activities at the school Sports Club, run by the friendly Mr Pawlek. But is Mr Pawlek all he seems? Barry spots him photographing the Irish naval base on a school trip, and he keeps asking questions about where Barry’s mother’s Munitions factory is. Is he just being friendly or does he have an ulterior motive? Could he be a Nazi spy?

Barry and Grace set out to find proof. At first, it’s an exciting game, but then things turn dangerous. Barry and Grace’s courage will be tested to the limit as they set out to unmask Mr Pawlek.

I enjoyed this. All the characters are well-drawn. Brian Gallagher is good at getting across everyday life in 1941 Dublin: the playground games, the carefulness with money (every penny counts), the new music from the States, and so on. Similarly, the bombing of Liverpool is nail-bitingly gripping. The history is woven seamlessly into the fabric of an exciting story so that it becomes utterly convincing. Children of ten plus should enjoy this book. Recommended.