“Transcription” is a very enjoyable novel about spies and counter spies in England during World War II. The story is full of surprises.
The lead character, Juliet Armstrong, had wanted to join one of the women’s armed forces. But when war was declared she was summoned to an interview and found herself part of the Security Services. After a patently absurd interview, where she lied in response to virtually every question, and where apparently her interviewer was aware that she was lying, Juliet was deemed sufficiently satisfactory to join M15.
On her first day she is placed on a bus with other women and dropped off at an old prison. Her functions in the facility were predominantly clerical. Juliet became good friends with Clarissa, also recruited to M15, who just happened to be the daughter of a Duke and the two spent a lot of time together.
After a short period of time at the “Scrubs”, Juliet is recruited for a specific operation, working with Peregrine Gibbons. The job takes place in an apartment building, where a British spy has convinced treasonous British citizens that he is working for the Gestapo. The traitors meet him in his apartment where there is sophisticated equipment intended to record all of their meetings and Juliet’s job is to transcribe the conversations.
Later, Juliet is placed “in the field”, where she infiltrates the life of a wealthy Nazi sympathizer, Mrs. Scaife, ultimately ending up in Mrs. Scaife’s arrest. There are many twists and turns in the book including an unfortunate death or two, as well as counter espionage, Communist sympathizers, romance and other intrigue.
After the war Juliet goes to work for the BBC as a producer of a radio show called “Past Lives.” Unfortunately for Juliet, her past life as a spy continues to pop up and periodically she is asked to serve as a safe house for one person or another, until she manages to lose a very valuable man named Pavel. During the 1950s, people from her M15 days suddenly start to show up and she goes on a tour of her own to track down her past. She finds herself in some serious trouble and escapes London and lives in Italy for 30 years. The book actually begins in 1981 with Juliet back in London, having been hit by a car. The story then alternates between the spy days of the 1940s and the BBC days of 1950.
The book is a lot of fun and portrays British spies as sort of a fumbling lot. There are many twists and turns and a lot of dry humor. Although not the masterpiece that “Life After Life” was, this is still an enjoyable and worthwhile read. You can reserve the book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.