‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson is about spies and double agents of World War II, with its aftermath extending to 1950. COURTESY PHOTO

by Kate Atkinson
Published by Little and Brown 2018
Pages 335 Price $28.

This novel begins in London, England during World War II and continues 10 years later in 1950. It is about Juliet Armstrong a young stenographer who takes dictation and is employed by MI 5, England’s secret service. At 18 it is her job to transcribe recordings of meetings in a bugged flat taking down discussion  of fascist sympathizers in 1940 in England.

A man named Godfrey Toby, who is an English spy working for England but is believed to be a secret Gestapo agent by fascist sympathizers, interviews people who are leaning to Hitler. Juliet Armstrong takes their comments down as they talk in a room next to the one in which they are being interviewed. She gives her typed reports to the English secret service. She does not see those who are interviewed. She is introduced to the interviewer, Godfrey Toby, who is an older man and is a professional interviewer seeking information on supporters of Hitler in England during World War II.

Ten years later, in 1950, Juliet is working for the BBC. One day she sees Godfrey Toby walking on the street and rushes up to him and says, “Hello, Mr. Toby.” He lifts his hat and says, ”Sorry, you must be mistaken,” and moves on. She is sure it is the same man she worked with years ago in the MI5 organization of England. She has flashbacks of different experiences during the war. Was he a double agent working for England and the Gestapo or still a secret service agent working for England? To find out whether Godfrey Toby was a double agent you will have to read the book.

The story is well written but complicated. Many parts keep you on the edge of your seat however the story is confusing. Inside several chapters there are the transcripts of the conversations Juliet typed up and recorded  for England which makes the reader feel this activity really took place, although this is a fictional novel. The book is fascinating with dry humor characteristic of English understatement, and reads like an Agatha Christie novel.

”Transcription” is about spies and double agents of World War II, with its aftermath extending to 1950. However it is timely today because no one knows exactly what happened during our 2016 election in America. Did Russia influence the American presidential election through fictitious people or fictitious organizations, who took out ads for Russia on Facebook? No one really knows. Are there double agents living in America today? No one really knows. Is reality stranger than fiction? Maybe! Who knows? This book will appeal to everyone who plays chess. It is complicated but thought provoking and exciting.


The Cuban Affair
by Nelson DeMille
Published by Simon and Schuster 2017
Pages 526 Paperback. $9.99

If you like fast dialogue, believable characters, and international intrigue, you will love this fabulous novel titled “The Cuban Affair.” It is the kind of book you can get right into on page one. It is written by Nelson DeMille, a nationally known crime mystery writer, who  was born in New York and lives in Queens Long Island. I mention this because his fictitious leading character, Daniel Graham MacCormick, called “Mac,” comes from Portland, Maine. Mac runs a deep-sea charter fishing boat located in Key West, Florida for tourists and wealthy customers. In fact the name of his fishing boat is titled, “The Maine”, in honor of the state.

The action starts in the Green Parrot bar in Key West, Florida where Mac now lives. He agrees to meet a lawyer named Carlos who is looking for a fishing boat captain to take some clients to Cuba. They discuss things and Mac is weary but says, ”I charge $1200 a day. How many days?” Carlos says he needs him for seven days and will pay $3000 a day. Mac figures something illegal must be going on and he backs off. But Carlos has looked up Mac’s background, and knows he has served in Afghanistan, is a war hero and is supposed to be a risk taking leader as well as a survivor. Carlos also knows Mac has a mortgage on his boat and needs money. So Carlos says, “We will pay you two million.” Well, that grabbed Mac’s attention and he agrees to take the two clients whom Carlos wants him to meet for an evening cruise on his boat to discuss the matter.

Eduardo Valazquez, an older man dressed expensively, and Sara Ortega, wearing long white designer jeans, come to Mac’s boat to discuss possible arrangements. During their evening cruise Mac finds out they are both aristocrats who hate Castro. Eduardo was a land owner in Cuba whose land was taken by Castro, and Sara’s grandfather, now dead, was a banker in Havana, who hid 60 million dollars in a cave when he left. Sara has the map to the cave. Yes, there are many caves in Cuba. The mark of a great book is, if the story can carry you into the impossible. This book does carry you into the impossible with many twists and turns. The dialogue is fast and natural, filled with double entendre quips. The author is talented in building believable suspense and believable characters.

The plan is to go to Cuba on Mac’s boat and join a Yale educational tour group for cover. Next step is to drop out of the tour group and hunt for the money, following the map. Third step is meeting Mac’s boat, run by his second mate, Jack, to get back to Key West safely. Mac is to accompany Sara on land for the search. If they get back safely Mac gets two million dollars. If they don’t get back they all might be killed.

The writing style reminded me of Hemingway because of its short sentences, fast dialogue, and quick reflection of inner thoughts of the lead character as he analyzes situations.

I loved the style of writing and the author’s choice of mentioning Maine as the name of the hero’s boat, and his reference to growing up in Portland, Maine. At one point Mac even says he graduated  Bowdoin. So Maine is included in the book, like salt and pepper in a salad. It spices up the story in a novel of international intrigue dealing with traveling to Cuba from Key West. If you want to find out, if Mac and Sara find the treasure and get back to safety, you will have to read the book. I could not put it down.

— Pat Davidson Reef is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston. She received her Masters Degree at the University of Southern Maine.She taught English and Art History at Catherine McAuley High for many years.She now teaches at the University of Southern Maine in Portland in the  Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Classic Films. She recently wrote a children’s book,”Dahlov Ipcar Artist, and is now writing another children’s book “Bernard Langlais Revisited.”

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