The German Numbers Woman

Alan Sillitoe, Author Flamingo Publishing Company $28 (406p) ISBN 978-0-00-225960-6
Septuagenarian Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) creates another memorable English working-class outsider in his latest novel, the story of a blind WWII veteran. Now middle-aged and accustomed to expressing little emotion, Howard barely acknowledges how he chafes at the confines of his comfortable life in a seaside town, resenting even--or perhaps especially--the attentions of his caregiver wife, Laura. His passion is Morse code. Bent over the wireless, earphones on his head, Howard becomes familiar with voices across the globe, including the German woman who drones out mysterious lists of numbers for an unknown audience. Howard's eavesdropping turns into compulsion when he is attracted to conversations between a sailor named Judy and her female lover in Spain. Meanwhile, Laura finds Howard a friend, Richard, a ne'er-do-well who applies his radio talents to the drug trade, guiding boats laden with illegal goods using information from intercepted weather and Interpol reports. Determined to protect Judy when her skipper, in cahoots with Richard, sets off on a dangerous drug run, Howard gets Richard to take him along on the trip--not realizing that Richard and Laura have formed an alliance of their own. The novel suddenly shifts from provincial realism to high seas action-adventure as Howard heroically saves the girl, escapes the villains and alerts the good guys. No longer the breakthrough writer of his early years, Sillitoe still effectively portrays the psychological idiosyncrasies of British reserve with chilling detail and a tender appreciation for obsessive loners. His alienated hero--older, wizened, subdued--is still a marvelous creation, this time communicating through Morse code when all else fails. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/04/1999
Release date: 10/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 406 pages - 978-0-00-655201-7
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