Secret Service

Written by Tom Bradby

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

Secret Service
Bantam Press
RRP: £12.99
Released: May 30 2019

It’s been a decade since Tom Bradby published a novel. He’s been busy screenwriting and working as a broadcast journalist for the British news network ITN, but I am delighted to report that his latest novel SECRET SERVICE has been worth the wait, and the anticipation.

Secret Service is an international thriller that has urgency straited throughout its prescient fusion of geo-politics, and the personal lives of people caught in the shadows of those events, the geopolitics of the world stage. It also casts a compassionate eye, as it makes the reader think beyond what is presented, to uncover the reality beneath the veneer that masks our lives and the lives of others, namely the powerful, as well as those we love, and those we fear.

At the centre of this geopolitical thriller is Kate Henderson, a senior intelligence officer based at London’s Vauxhall Cross, the H.Q. of Great Britain’s Special Intelligence Service (MI6 / SiS). Some say Paranoia is a heightened sense of reality, while others consider it a mental illness, but in the circles that Henderson navigates, it can be an advantage.

Henderson believes she has uncovered a Russian plot to covertly place an asset at the summit of British politics. She gathers her team to investigate to obtain credence, to support her mounting paranoia. Her point-man, Ravindra [Rav] with Danny on the technical side start to investigate this rumoured Russian asset Viper, allegedly placed in Whitehall and/or Westminster. Kate and Rav, secure the services of a tough Eastern European girl, Lena - to gather evidence of this Russian operation. Lena’s abilities came to the attention of Kate Henderson following the girl's escape from the abuses of her father in Belgrade, and then from the clutches of Milos, a sex-trafficker.

Bradby’s novel commences with the starting gun, being Lena falling into Kate Henderson’s recruitment trap, a sting operation where she is caught ‘apparently’ shoplifting. Lena came to the attention of British intelligence due to her guile and resourcefulness. She showed her talents in her ability to escape Milos, and make a new life for herself as an au pair in London.

Kate Henderson offers her a job to work undercover for SIS / MI6, with the promise of helping her get her younger sister away from their abusive father in Belgrade. The mission appears a suicide-run even for the resourcefully athletic Lena, so she declines, only to be told if she doesn’t help, then she faces deportation back to Belgrade, and back into the arms of her abusive father.

Lena’s Mission is for her to secure a position as an au pair to three-year-old Alexei, son of Katya and a senior player in Russian Intelligence - Mikhail. The mission would place Lena on a super yacht, The Empress to observe the machinations of a guest list that includes Russian oligarchs and senior espionage officials Markov, Barentsev and Vasily Durov who work Russian Intelligence overseas operations (the SVR). There will also be call-girls and ‘heavies’ on the decks of the yacht and down in the guest bedrooms. These crude, powerful and wealthy men within the SVR are to Russia, what MI6 is to Great Britain, the covert octopus-like tentacles that oversee international threats on behalf of its respective peoples.

Lena is no fool, despite her fears of being placed on that yacht, her fears for her younger sister, and her former life in Belgrade, are greater than those posed by these dangerous Russian, and British Intelligence people.

Kate Henderson is convinced in the veracity of Viper, being the rumoured Russian mole, one that she fears is headed for the top table in Westminster. With the Prime Minister ill, with rumours of cancer, there might be a position that Viper could fill - the post that comes with keys to 10 Downing Street.

Henderson’s boss at SIS / MI6 Ian Granger is sceptical about his colleague’s growing paranoia, instead thinking Viper is a Russian construct, a game to seed disinformation and confusion among their ranks. However, ‘C’, Sir Alan Brabazon (Head of SIS / MI6) is prepared to allow Henderson to follow her paranoia – much to the annoyance of Kate’s boss Ian Granger.

Bradby sets up SECRET SERVICE adroitly, like a geopolitical chess-board. Though what adds an intriguing dimension to the proceedings, are not the powerful pieces, the King, the Queen, the Rooks, the Bishops (with the Russian and British overseas intelligence services sitting either side of the board) - it’s the Pawns and the Knights. The smaller pieces, the secondary characters that pepper Bradby’s narrative that give this novel that added depth. These are the supporting players within the halls of Whitehall, the Kremlin and Westminster; as well as Henderson’s team, her family, her husband Stuart, her estranged mother Lucy now in a care home with dementia, the fractured past of her late father, and his nemesis David ‘underpants’ Johnson. There is teenage angst in Henderson’s daughter Fiona (‘Fi’) which will resonate in those of us balancing a family life whilst managing a demanding career.

Complete with short chapters, a powerful voice, a slippery and terse narrative, the reader finds that a bookmark is superfluous, such is the engaging nature of Bradby’s return as a novelist.

Miss Secret Service at your peril, for this geopolitical thriller has the bite of that rumoured Russian asset, Viper; while its narrative venom will stay within your mind longer than the memory of its sting.  

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