After reading reviews of this book on other sites, I decided it would give me an excellent picture of at least part of the Australian outback as well as a ripping good adventure/romance read. I wasn’t disappointed.
The Secret Years looks at relationships and secrets of three generations: George (Georgina) originally from England, and her husband, Harry Kemp (an original outbacker and Aussie army volunteer in WWII), their daughter, Ro (Rose) born in Australia but partly educated in England, and Lucy, George and Harry’s granddaughter, who follows in their footsteps living the army life as a logistics officer and serving in Afghanistan.
The Prologue begins in 1963 when Rosie (Ro) is six years old living with her father — Harry, aka the boss — in North Queensland on a three thousand square kilometer spread called Kalkadoon Station which supports between four and five thousand head of Brahman cattle per year. An English woman is arriving to try to take Rosie to England and Harry promises he won’t let her go.
The story begins in earnest with Lucy, returning from a 6-month tour in Afghanistan, is struggling with a number of issues: her grandfather, Harry’s serious illness (kidney failure), a mother with at best, a tense relationship with Harry, and the fact that she, herself, will be returning after R & R to a desk job now that her deployment to Afghanistan is finally over. When the fiancé she’s expecting to move in with and set the wedding date isn’t waiting to greet her at the airport, Lucy begins to get an uneasy feeling. When she returns to her mother’s new apartment late that night instead of spending the weekend with Sam, those events become part of her secrets which she keeps from Ro.
Ro is carrying around secrets about the years she spent in England and Lucy is certain that those events have something to do with why her mom can’t seem to have a lasting relationship with any of the previous boyfriends she has had. Her latest, Keith, seems to be a cut above the rest and perhaps that’s part of the problem. Why does Ro think she doesn’t deserve a great guy? And why do she and Harry grate against each other all the time? Surely she could make an effort to get along when she knows Harry is dying.
As for grandpa Harry, Lucy can never get him to talk about the war, or about Kalkadoon, or his late wife, Georgina (George). What secrets is he hiding? When Lucy finds a cookie tin Harry had given her mom to keep safe when he went into the hospital, she decides to take a peek. What she finds in that tin convinces her that to unravel the secrets behind the troubled relationships within her family she needs to go to England to the home where George’s relatives still live. Imagine Lucy’s surprise when she sees Penwall Hall on the blustery Cornwall coast with its vast property, stables, and gardens. She’s even more surprised when she learns that the gorgeous hunk she saw in the pub in the nearby town is actually her cousin, Nick Myatt, the one who has made the estate self-sufficient. She can’t help but compare him to Sam but knows she must get over her feelings. After all, they’re cousins!
Between the chapters telling about Lucy’s adventures to learn the truth about her family history, Hannay tells the love story of Harry and George. It is touching, and exciting, as well as traumatic as the young lovers weather the Blitz in London, barely escape the Japanese invasion of Rabaul, New Guinea, and finally face her parents in Penwall Hall, Cornwall. How scary could that be after everything else they’d gone through?
This was a wonderful adventure full of fascinating and rebellious characters, captivating settings, tender relationships under heavy weather, and lots of surprises and realistic war situations. It is a fast read simply because you can’t put it down. It is the first novel by Barbara Hannay that I’ve read but it definitely won’t be the last. There was nothing slow or lackaday about this adventure and the ending was very satisfying. * * * * *