Two young Dublin refugees cement a friendship and unmask a Nazi spy in this patchy import.
Gallagher crafts a tale that is as much about adjusting to loss and change in wartime as it is about having adventures. Sent to his grandma’s in neutral Ireland from Liverpool to escape the massive bombing, Barry meets Grace, a local who has lost her own home to an accidental bombing. She and her widowed mother have been forced to move in with her granddad and obnoxious Uncle Freddie. Along with performing various acts of friendship—most notably, Grace secretly bribes a rough upperclassman to deal with a bully who is giving Barry a hard time—the two engage in counterespionage. They confirm their suspicions about Barry’s smooth talking “Polish” gym instructor by repeatedly breaking into his house, ultimately finding a radio transmitter. They then contrive to capture him, narrowly avoiding being shot. The author tucks in plenty of period details and dialogue (“Baggsy first go on the binoculars!”) for atmosphere. He not only leaves his protagonists heroes (never mind their predilection for vigilantism), but covers all of the major characters’ later lives in an epilogue.
While the Battle of Britain isn’t culturally central on this side of the pond, U.S. readers may be intrigued by the atypical setting as well as the brisk, if slow to arrive, climax. (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)