Stephen Donaldson, a single well-educated young man, was recruited for the Institute after completing his studies at Oxford. The aim and tasks of his employer remained rather unclear and so he finds himself listening to audio tapes and scanning them for hints of communist and revolutionary plans. Day by day he gets more familiar with the individuals he observes, he feels like being part of their family since he gets to hear every word spoken at their homes. The target PHOENIX becomes especially interesting when Stephen kind of falls in love with Helen who seems to be lonely and disconnected from her husband.
Sending the reader back into the beginning of the 1980s with the cold war at a critical point, Francesca Kay provides us with a glance through the keyhole of espionage and state intervention. Yet, it is less the political implication that comes into the focus but the very private lives of the targets which are portrayed via the tapes and which do not hide anything. Not just Stephen is very carefully drawn and quite authentic in his thoughts and manner, but also the persons observed and it is the details, e.g. the Christmas presents Stephen offers to one of his colleagues, which show an incredible capacity of close observation of the human being. Apart from this, the atmosphere at the time, the fear of IRA bombs or even a 3rd World War, is exceptionally well translated into the text.