Falco takes on a small job to find a missing gossip columnist for the Daily Gazette, and decides to take the family with him to Ostia, Rome’s port.
As ever, holidaying en famille and combining work and pleasure proves less relaxing than planned, and Falco’s investigations turn out to kidnap, pirates and Uncle Fluvius, ‘the one no one talks about’.
Neat concept – a collection of chapters constructed around the Shipping Forecast. With snippets of history, geography and daily life in far flung places, connected by this iconic thrice daily broadcast on the BBC, it’s a nice read, particularly when you are very familiar with some of the places he writes about – sitting on the seafront at Walton on the Naze looking out at Sealand while reading the chapter on Thames being a personal case in point.
The sole irritation was Charlie Connelly’s occasional lapses in planning ahead, beyond getting to the coasts and islands covered in each chapter – no mean feat considering when it was written. Still, “when needs must” does result in some good anecdotes and encounters.
There’s a note at the end of Transcription where Kate Atkinson reveals the twin inspirations for the novel – a set of World War II transcripts of recordings made of bugged premises, classified at the time but recently released by the National Archives, and Eric Roberts, a bank clerk at the Westminster Bank (Is there anything more boring?) who posed as a Gestapo agent during WW2 when he worked for MI5 as a spy (Is there anything more exciting?).
Transcription blends and fictionalises these two sets of facts, and revolves around (and reveals) the life of the young woman who typed the up the transcripts. And so we follow Juliet Armstrong from when she leaves school on the death of her mother, to her recruitment to work for MI5 as a typist, to living and loving in London during the war, into the 1950s and finally, briefly, to her life afterwards.
A gentleman soldier returns from the Peninsula War, silent and remote. In search of self healing he travels the western sea roads north from Bristol to the Scottish Isles.
In time we learn that John Lacroix was an officer in charge of a motley bunch of infantrymen making their way to Corunna, and that something terrible happened on that journey.
Unbeknownst to Lacroix he is being tracked by an ill suited pair – Calley, a British footsoldier, and Medina, a Spanish officer, who have been tasked with bringing him to justice – or, in Calley’s interpretation, returning with Lacroix’s head in a sack. We never really learn who is behind their orders.
Historical novel, romance, thriller – it’s a real mixture that offers a fascinating perspective on the Peninsula Wars, 18th century trade and travel, Scottish emigration and Hebridean life.