’Transcription’ is the latest stand-alone novel by Kate Atkinson in which eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is recruited straight out of school by MI5 in 1940 not long after her mother has died. Initially given secretarial tasks as well as the roles usually left to women such as making the tea, she soon begins transcription work monitoring the conversations held in a flat in Pimlico between Fascist sympathisers and an undercover British agent named Godfrey Toby who poses as a member of the Gestapo. A decade later, she is working as a radio producer of children’s programmes at the BBC believing that her wartime activities now lie in the past. However, a chance encounter with Godfrey (also known as John Hazeldine), some threatening notes and a sense that she is being followed remind her that the world of espionage is not one easily left behind and there are some who want Juliet to know that her actions have had far-reaching consequences. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Spies
As part of my continuing efforts to read more books from the back catalogues of my favourite authors, I have recently read ‘The Innocent’ by Ian McEwan which tells the story of Leonard Marnham, a twenty-five-year-old British Post Office engineer who has been recruited to work in Berlin in the mid-1950s as part of Operation Gold, a joint Anglo-American top secret project which involved building a tunnel under the Russian sector of Berlin in order to tap communication lines. When Leonard falls in love with an older German divorcee, Maria Eckdorf, their relationship soon becomes entangled with the operation with far-reaching consequences. Continue reading
Last year, I went to an event in London to celebrate the work of classic crime fiction novelists Eric Ambler and Margery Allingham and I’ve finally got round to reading two of Ambler’s best known novels ‘Epitaph for a Spy’ and ‘Journey into Fear’, reissued as Penguin Modern Classics for his centenary in 2009. ‘Epitaph for a Spy’ tells the story of Joseph Vadassy, a Hungarian refugee and languages teacher who is on holiday in the south of France. When his camera is swapped with one whose film contains sensitive photos of secret naval installations in Toulon, Vadassy comes under suspicion of being a Gestapo agent. To convince the police that he isn’t guilty of espionage, he must find out which of the guests staying at the Hôtel de la Réserve is the real spy. Continue reading
‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes opens with an elite intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim being brought out of retirement to investigate the brutal murder of a woman in the rundown Eastside Inn in New York whose identifying features have all been dissolved with acid. Meanwhile, Pilgrim is also attempting to track down a Saudi Arabian doctor known as the Saracen who was radicalised after his father was publicly beheaded and is seeking revenge by unleashing a deadlier version of smallpox on the United States. It later transpires that the two investigations are closely linked. Continue reading
‘Zone’ by Mathias Énard and translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell tells the story of Francis Mirkovic, a Franco-Croat intelligence officer who is travelling by train from Milan to Rome after missing his plane. He will be delivering a briefcase containing a dossier about war crimes across various parts of the “zone” where he worked – the region around the Mediterranean Sea spanning across Spain, Lebanon, Cairo and Croatia – which he plans to sell to the highest bidder thus ending his career as an agent. During the journey, Francis reflects on his twenty-year career, his future, his family, his relationships with Marianne, Stéphanie and Sashka, his fellow passengers on the train and much more. Continue reading
There is a wide range of Japanese fiction available in English thanks to the popularity of authors such as Haruki Murakami, Shuichi Yoshida, Hiromi Kawakami and many more. However, contemporary Chinese fiction translated into English is somewhat less prominent, so I was pretty surprised to come across a brand new copy of ‘Decoded’ by Mai Jia in a National Trust secondhand bookshop recently. Continue reading
After reading two excellent novels in recent months about Soviet spies recruited at Cambridge University – Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and Red Joan by Jennie Rooney – I was intrigued by Ben Macintyre’s biography of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five spies recruited by Arnold Deutsch in the mid-1930s. Philby worked for Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS or MI6) during the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War before his activities as a double agent for the NKVD and KGB were finally uncovered in 1963.
I was fascinated by the original premise of ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney which is based on the true story of Melita Norwood who was famously unmasked as the KGB’s longest serving British spy at the age of eighty-seven in 1999. In Rooney’s fictionalised version of events, Joan Stanley, an eighty-five year old woman living in the suburbs of south east London, receives a visit from two British intelligence operatives who have come to question her about her past after so many decades of silence. The story is cleverly told through a series of flashbacks as the links between Joan’s past and present are gradually revealed.
‘Sweet Tooth’ by Ian McEwan tells the story of a young woman called Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) who is recruited by MI5 after she finishes studying at Cambridge University in the early 1970s. She is assigned to an operation named Sweet Tooth in which a cultural foundation is set up to offer financial assistance to writers who speak out against communism. However, her romantic relationship with one of the young writers involved in the project, Tom Haley, starts to complicate things. Continue reading
‘Spies’ by Michael Frayn tells the story of Stephen Wheatley, who returns to the quiet street where he lived as a young boy in England during the Second World War and looks back on a particular incident when his friend Keith announces that his mother is a German spy. The boys soon get caught up in solving this mystery only for new discoveries to be made instead. Continue reading