This very sad story opens with the return of rich farmer's son Alan Duncan to his now elderly parents' sheep station in Western Victoria in 1953, after several years away studying in England. His home-coming is marred by the seemingly inexplicable suicide of a parlour-maid the night before his arrival. The maid, a well-educated English girl called Jessie Proctor, whom his mother has come to rely on, seems to have destroyed every document that could help trace her family or friends. Convinced that in fact she has hidden the papers somewhere in the house, Alan sets out to investigate in order to try to spare his parents some pain.
He soon discovers what he is looking for, and learns that Jessie is not her real name, and that he has met Janet Prentice once before. Janet's diary will remind him of his time as a pilot during World War 2, and the death of his younger brother Bill just before D-day. Although all three found their war time occupations exciting, the war has cast a long and tragic shadow on the future life of both Janet and Alan.
I read this superb and vivid book in a single day. Neville Shute brings to life both the serious and lighter sides of war-time service in an understated, yet powerful, way that will give the reader a real insight into what it must have been like to take part in the war.