A Review of Hannah Morrissey’s “Hello, Transcriber”
Goodbye, Intriguing Premise
Transcribing is tough work. I should know. I’ve been asked to take minutes of meetings over Microsoft Teams and have struggled to keep my typing up with people speaking fast. (And I’m a relatively fast typist, too. The last time I was tested, years ago, I was in the 65 words per minute range.) I might be a bit quicker when I’m writing things down by hand, but life was so much simpler when I had a cassette recorder to rely on while I was a freelance journalist. (I haven’t gotten too hip to the new technology.) I can only imagine what it’s like to be a police transcriber, writing down spoken report after spoken report. That profession is behind the premise for Hannah Morrissey’s debut novel, Hello, Transcriber. It’s effectively about one young twentysomething woman named Hazel Greenlee who takes a job as a police transcriber in a small Midwestern city that’s best known for having big-city crime. Not too long after taking the job, after ditching a bookstore managerial job for reasons that are left unexplained, she gets involved in a drug case involving multiple homicides, many of them children. She also has a fling with the investigating police officer on the case named Nik Kole, even though Hazel is married (and to a gun nut, at that). How long will it take for Hazel’s life to completely unravel and go off the rails?
Hello, Transcriber is a fun book — a trashy, entertaining read. There are multiple twists and turns, and whom I thought to be the killer wasn’t. The job details of transcribing are also absorbing. You’ll learn a fair bit about the profession just from reading this book. However, these are the most friendly and nice things I can say about the novel. It turns out that Hello, Transcriber can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants to be a slightly by-the-book police procedural or a torrid romance novel. Honestly, there are pages upon pages of steamy lovemaking, so much so that you could skip over nearly entire chapters and not miss a beat with the plot. In essence, this novel is probably more meant for women, I think, who may enjoy the romance angle more than I did and the sexual fantasies from a woman’s point-of-view that the author conjures up. However, this is not the only flaw with Hello, Transcriber, alas — though it might be the most major one.
I wanted to know more about the setting of the novel. It takes place in a bleak Wisconsin city called Black Harbor, and, again, it is a place known more for its high crime rate than anything else. However, we don’t see much of it. The novel takes place mostly in the cop shop, along with various restaurants and dive bars, and it turns out that one of the crimes — where a nine-year-old boy was fed an overdose of opioids and whose body was left in a dumpster — took place across the street from the police station! This leads to another flaw in the novel: the main villain — known as the Candy Man — is not much of a chilling bad guy at all. After all, if the person is dumb enough to leave a body in the vicinity of the police station, there’s not much to be fearful of in terms of the villain being a smart crook. (Maybe the point of this disposal is to show how brazen the Candy Man is, but I felt that the opposite effect was felt.)
The other thing — and this might give a little piece of the novel away — is that we’re given a picture of Hazel’s husband, Tommy, as being, again, a major gun aficionado who leaves all sorts of handguns scattered around the duplex he and Hazel share. However, nothing is done with this angle. Morrissey breaks Chekhov’s gun rule that says, if you introduce a gun in Act One, it’d better have gone off by Act Three. Maybe this is all part of the twists and turns of the novel, and the author is trying to constantly surprise us, but I felt that this was weak character development — you could take away the guns and be left, essentially, with the same character. True, the guns give the reader a reason to distrust Tommy while Hazel and Nik have loads of romantic escapades, but, in the end, Tommy’s guns never go off — pun not really intended. (Sorry for the minor spoiler.)
On and on it goes: I could poke flaws in this read all day if I wanted to. Still, I did mildly and perversely enjoy Hello, Transcriber — but only as a piece of pleasurable fluff. It can act as a diversion from the real-life events in your world and remind you that, no matter how bad your life might get, some people have it worse. Still, the execution of the book leaves something to be desired. One thing that I gleaned from eyeballing another review online (as I was in the middle of reading this book — bad, me) is that the author has a love affair with the simile over the metaphor. It’s true. If you took a drink every time the word “like” is used, you might have a fun time with this volume if you’re so inclined towards getting a hangover.
At the most basic level, Hello, Transcriber has an intriguing premise — and describes a profession that’s captivating to go along with it — but it is squandered by what amounts to be a lot of hanky-pankys and touchy-feelies. This ultimately means that the novel is essentially destined to be little more than a library read for the curious. Hello, Transcriber writes its way towards disappointment and plods with mediocre exposition. It makes me want to cry because there’s a sizzling plot idea to be had here (culled from the author’s own time working as a police transcriber, it turns out). In the end, there is far more fizzle than sizzle, and that’s all the reason why Hello, Transcriber never elevates itself from the potboiler that it winds up being. Too bad. There was a gem of an idea here.
Hannah Morrissey’s Hello, Transcriber was published by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books on November 30, 2021.
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