SECRET SERVICE by Tom Bradby (Bantam, $A32.99)
It has been a long time between books for TV journalist and author Tom Bradby. His last book was the bulky historical thriller Blood Money, released in 2009. Now he is back with a very timely and convincing spy novel, Secret Service.
Kate Henderson appears to be the typical British civil servant with a quiet job, a pleasant husband, two teenagers and an Alzheimer’s stricken mother. In reality, however, she is a senior MI6 officer who is running a very sensitive operation. In response to information from a secret source, Kate infiltrates a young woman and a listening device onto a Russian oligarch’s super-yacht in Istanbul. The bug reveals the startling intelligence that the British Prime Minister has prostate cancer and that one of the leading candidates to replace him may be a Russian agent of influence.
Kate and her superiors are sceptical about the intelligence, but when the PM suddenly announces his resignation for medical reasons, they find that they must sift through the possible replacements to find out which one is the Russian agent. It is a complex and very sensitive task, made infinitely more difficult by a web of complicated personal relationships and the likelihood that there is another mole, codename Viper, in one of the intelligence agencies. There is also the real possibility that they are being played by the Russians.
As tension around the operation increases, Kate finds that her job, her marriage and maybe even her life may be at risk.
I really enjoyed this clever espionage novel, which once again proves that the British do the intelligent, credible spy story better than anyone else. There are a couple of slow patches, but overall it moves at a good pace and when the action occurs it is quick, believable and tense. Bradby intermingles Kate’s personal and professional lives with aplomb, although close reading is required to keep the myriad personal relationships clear in your head.
The book moves ably through some twisty turns and Bradby does a good job of keeping us guessing as to who the mole is and which one of the candidates is really the Russian agent of influence. The story is very up to date about Russian attempts to influence elections and there is a good contemporary feel to the story, although he does not explicitly address Brexit. The descriptions of London, Turkey and Greece are spot-on and quite evocative and add a further layer of credibility to the story. There is also a good cast of convincing secondary characters.
I thoroughly enjoyed Secret Service and think it is the best contemporary spy novel I have read so far this year.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Secret Service is released in Australia on 4 June and in the United Kingdom on 29 April.
Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of the book to review.