THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED
By Mick Herron
Publisher: Soho Crime (January, 2018)
Kindle edition: $14.99
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Maggie Barnes is the kind of woman who fades into the wallpaper, quiet and non-descript. Always in the shadow of her shining-star older sister Meredith, a disappointment to her parents, she left home to find herself in London. Instead, she just got more lost. She has a dead-end job in the mailroom of a large office building where no one even notices her, much less asks her to lunch or the pub. If someone offered her a kind word, she’d be grateful forever, but no one ever did.
She followed the same routine every day: a long bus ride to the office, eight hours of drudgery, and a long bus ride home to her empty flat. The one bright spot in her day is when she has coffee and cake at Central Perk, a small café in a park by the river. She’s used to being alone, and it is a shock to her when a middle-aged man asks to sit with her. He introduces himself as Harvey Wells. She responds by telling him to beat it. He’s creepy, possibly a stalker.
He comes back on another day, offering her an apology and flowers. He reveals that he knows who she is and where she works because he is an agent of MI5. He says her office building is under investigation because the Chinese government is carrying on espionage, with plans to bring down the British government. Maggie is the perfect person to gather information. Harvey assures her that’s all she needs to do – for now. After a few weeks, he gives her a major, possibly dangerous, assignment, and she is ready. No one has ever trusted her like this; she feels confident and brave.
Something goes wrong during the assignment. Someone gets hurt and she is almost caught. Harvey rushes her into a safe house, a dreary basement room, telling her she’ll have to stay there until things get sorted out. Days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, but he tells her it is still not safe.This riveting novel starts out as a spy novel, but it turns into something much darker. The characters are three-dimensional; the London in the story is grimy, bleak, and depressing. The thrills in this thriller will give the reader a wild, but satisfying, ride. Mr. Herron has written ten other novels and a novella. His works have been nominated for every major award in his genre, and it is easy to see why. Highly recommended.
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