The Enemy Is Listening by Aileen Clayton (1980, Hutchison & Co.)
This is an autobiographical account of the first woman recruited into Britain’s Y Service during World War II. The “Y” was meant to represent an aerial antenna used to intercept radio calls, and that was the purpose of the group: to find German transmissions, translate them, break whatever codes they happened to be using, and relay the information to Allied commands as rapidly as possible without Germans intercepting those messages.
The linguists used for this duty were overwhelmingly women, given a position away from the front lines but absolutely critical to the prosecution of the war effort. Aileen Clayton, being the first recruit, found herself in a position to rise in authority throughout the war and developed a detailed knowledge not only of how the Y Service worked but also the countermeasures engaged by the enemy.
It’s a bit dense, but it’s full of detail about the inner operations of World War II from the perspective of an expert, and it shines a spotlight on the actions of many educated women as they worked to save their country during a critical war.
Night Chasers by Jamey Cohen (1982, Seaview Books)
This political thriller stands out for a few reasons. The first is the setting: while most thrillers involve world capitals, international chases and the halls of power this one takes place entirely within a small African nation. The second is the hero; while it is a government agent, he’s not a highly trained law enforcement agent. He’s a diplomat. Third, it’s constructed equally as a romance and a thriller. The first half of the book is focused on the budding relationship between the hero and the woman he needs to rescue.
Despite all of those deviations from the norm, the key difference between this and a normal political thriller is gorillas.
The main female character, who is captured by terrorists a little more than halfway through the book, is an analogue of Jane Goodall. She’s in Africa researching communication skills with gorillas, and has three at her encampment who have been her students. They’ve learned sign language and they’ve developed a rudimentary comprehension of some human behavior. The gorillas, present during the kidnapping, originally provide some key details about the attack and eventually become a key part of the team attempting to retrieve the scientist.
The book doesn’t live up to the promise of the cover copy, which paints the apes as if they were a simian A-Team who spend the length of a book rescuing their researcher… which is a bit of a shame, because such a book would have been ludicrous but potentially fun. Instead the readers have a novel which is implausible but theoretically possible that’s a well-written story which shifts from a pleasant romance into a decent political thriller.