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.
Not my usual fare this, but when needs must…. it was one of Val’s books on our Dolpo trek. We had more down time than usual, so I ended up reading this thriller set in the Channel Islands in the closing days of WWII.
Amazon.co.uk page: A Game for Heroes – James Graham