Reviews /

Hide and Seek: A Bletchley Park Mystery

Authored by Rhian Tracey
Illustrated by David Dean
Published by Templar Publishing

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The wonderfully dramatic front cover promises a thrilling adventure and this book certainly delivers that. But it also does far more; the opening dedication is to ‘all the refugees and emigres who have had to leave their homes’ concluding with a hope that they will ‘always be faced with open doors and open hearts’. This is a timely book which will help its readers understand a little more of what it is like to be a refugee caught up in a war and feeling like an outsider.

Ned and his mother, Helen, have left Bletchley Park for a new wartime commission. They are helping with the huge task of transporting and storing National Gallery treasures in an obscure Welsh quarry. Not everyone there is keen to welcome them and tensions mount. When someone leaks the secret to the newspapers, suspicions fall on any newcomers, leaving Ned in a very vulnerable position. His plight worsens still further when Helen leaves unexpectedly. Can Ned and his friends – new and old – save his mother’s art scheme?

The plot is pacey and the dialogue thoroughly convincing. World War II is a familiar setting but the focus on the National Gallery’s conservation scheme is more unusual. (Frank Cottrell Boyce did choose the same theme in his excellent, but very different MG novel, Framed). The art theme is not an incidental plot device either; it is integral to the book. Rhian Tracey incorporates the analysis so neatly that it never interrupts the story, but these ideas will open up a new world for some readers. The book passionately demonstrates the huge significance of art to morale and community. Teachers might well want to share some of the art works mentioned, such as Rembrandt’s self-portrait or perhaps explore some of the lesser-known artists.

The book would be a rewarding book to read aloud in KS2. There are so many aspects to encourage discussion and prompt research. Difficult themes such as Ned’s abusive father are deftly handled in an age-appropriate way. Ned’s friend Anni offers valuable insights into life as a refugee, caught between languages and painfully aware of her outsider status. The characterisation is rich and nuanced. Harri ‘has not been himself since his dad left’ for the war, but this realisation does not make his initial hostility easy. The dog on the front cover is key to the plot and is not any ordinary dog but an early guide dog. This is one of many intriguing historical nuggets tucked away in this adventure story; sharing this book will surely nurture a real love of history.

My only reservations are minor. The sub-title A Bletchley Park mystery is potentially misleading as very little of the action takes place at Bletchley. If that link is important, it is worth starting with the first in the series, the critically acclaimed I, Spy. This second story works well as a stand-alone, but there are many links with characters from the first book, so readers may prefer to read the books in order. My other reservation is that one character from the first book is reintroduced only briefly at the end. I wanted to understand more of her story. I hope this means that another Bletchley Park story is forthcoming; that would certainly be good news for readers who enjoy historical adventures of such excellent quality.