REVIEW: The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair

In brief: Ellie has been recruited to work for the secretive Central Bureau in World War II Brisbane. Her job is to decipher communications from the Japanese, but she can never, ever discuss it.

The good: I knew very little about Central Bureau before this book.

The not-so-good: I would have liked a little more detail when things come to a crescendo.

Why I chose it: Enjoyed Alli Sinclair’s other books. Thanks to Harlequin for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 464

Publisher: Harlequin Mira (Harper Collins)

Setting: Queensland, Australia

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Codebreakers is a novel that makes a story out of a little-known part of Australian war history and brings it to life through fiction. Set in World War II Brisbane, the story focuses on Ellie O’Sullivan who is recruited to work for the little-known Central Bureau. Through Ellie and her friends, the novel covers many of the facets of war in a story that is never boring.

Ellie is working as an engineer for Qantas when she keeps getting requests from a mystery army man. Eventually she gives in and takes the test he’s asking about, followed by recruitment into Central Bureau. Ellie has no idea who put her up for this or what it entails, but she wants to do her part for the war effort. This means moving from away from her roommate and landlady (who have become friends) and into the barracks. Once there, she finds an old friend in Florry and new ones. The work of the Garage Girls, as they call themselves, is to decipher communications from the Japanese using the Typex machines and support the work of Bletchley Park and other codebreaking units. But it’s not all codes, as the women have to fight their own battles – which include loss, betrayal, assault and the secrets that they must never reveal. These secrets hang heavy on the women in different ways, with some not wanting to discuss their war jobs and others like Ellie, wanting to be able to unburden on to others.

Alli Sinclair has done a great job of bringing these women to life and illustrating what an important job that did during the war. The research that has been done is clear, from the references to the grand house and garage where the women worked (Nyrambla – worth checking out) and the way the machine worked. There is a lot of drama happening and at times I wished that there was more on the dramatic events (for example, a character gets stabbed, wakes up in hospital and is back at work within a few pages) to really tease out the high stakes. Ellie is a great character who goes through a lot, but sometimes I did agree with other characters who said she looked on the bright side too often! (Although I don’t think I would have liked her so much if she was a misery guts). It was also nice that the story didn’t end with the end of the war, as the post-war years were just as tumultuous in different ways. I felt Ellie’s boredom and feelings of no longer being useful were captured really well. It’s an easy read, even though it’s quite big at over 460 pages as the story is gripping with never a dull moment. It’s a great read to learn more about little known aspects of Australian history and have fun along the way.

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