The Secret Hours by Mick Herron

Mick Herron (Mick Herron – Homepage | Hachette UK) has been writing thriller novels for 20 years now. His first was Down Cemetery Road, published in 2003. This formed the first of the four part Zoë Boehm series. There followed the twelve part ‘Slough House’ spy series (2010-2022) featuring Jackson Lamb.

Herron is pleased to be compared to John le Carré. (John le Carré obituary | John le Carré | The Guardian) The celebrated spy novelist is mentioned in Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ (2010) in which one of the characters is given the collected works of le Carré for his twelfth birthday by his grandfather. The old man tells him: ‘They’re made up, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true’. A reminder that fiction can convey truths in a way that literal and strictly factual statements cannot.

The Secret Hours (2023) is a stand-alone novel involving some of the characters from Herron’s previous fiction. The summary is as follows:

A hostile Prime Minister has launched an inquiry called Monochrome, investigating historical over-reaching by the British Secret Service. The PM’s Special Adviser, Anthony Sparrow, brings Dominic Cummings to mind. Monochrome’s mission is to ferret out any hint of misconduct by MI5 officers, and allows Griselda Fleet and Malcolm Kyle, the two civil servants seconded to the project, unfettered access to any and all confidential information in the Service archives in order to do so.  

MI5’s formidable ‘First Desk’ (Diana Taverner) has not become Britain’s top spy by accident, and she has successfully thwarted the inquiry at every turn. Now the Government that created Monochrome is out of office, and the investigation has petered out. Griselda and Malcolm are stuck watching as their career prospects are washed away in the London rain.

Until, that is, the eve of Monochrome’s official closure, when an MI5 case file appears without explanation. It is the buried history of a classified Berlin operation of 1994, an operation that ended in tragedy and scandal, and whose cover-up has rewritten thirty years of Service history.

The author plays games with time shifting between Devon, Berlin and London. ‘The Park’ (MI5 operations) is still threatened by outsourcing plans and interference from Downing Street. It is as part of these struggles that the file emerges from archives which does indeed indicate misconduct in Berlin in the 1990s. The narrative starts motoring from here.

Herron’s satire is evident throughout, and the targets predictable. The flimsiness of our social democratic state, the deterioration of public life and public services, the privatisation of public assets, political duplicity and contempt for the electorate. For thriller fans Herron delivers tension, intrigue, observation, wit, humour, and a sense of disorientation. Things are not as they seem. Oh dear!

400 pages in Baskerville (an imprint of John Murray)

First published 2023

ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-1399800532

Mick Herron
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