The Secret Hours
September 15, 2023 9:52 PM - Subscribe

Two years ago, a hostile Prime Minister launched the Monochrome inquiry, investigating "historical over-reaching" by the British Secret Service. Monochrome’s mission was to ferret out any hint of misconduct by any MI5 officer—and allowed 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. But MI5’s formidable First Desk did not become Britain’s top spy by accident, and she has successfully thwarted the inquiry at every turn. Now the administration that created Monochrome has been ousted, the investigation is a total bust—and Griselda and Malcolm are stuck watching as their career prospects are washed away by the pounding London rain. Until the eve of Monochrome’s shuttering, when an MI5 case file appears without explanation. It is the buried history of a classified operation in 1994 Berlin—an operation that ended in tragedy and scandal, whose cover-up has rewritten thirty years of Service history.

While I have no ability to view it as a newcomer to Herron's work would, I find it strange that it's being marketed as a "standalone" novel. Even if the tone is less humorous (at least for a long while at the outset), I think it's more connected to the main series of books than Nobody Walks.

Even having read the "interlude" Standing by the Wall (which I need to reread now in light of the greater context The Secret Hours provides) and having strong suspicions about the identity of Alison North, Herron's sleight-of-hand was such that I was still suckered into being surprised when she turned out to be exactly who I suspected she was in the first place. No matter how long the Apple TV adaptation runs, I don't expect this to be part of it, but it's the kind of thing you can do in text and can't really pull off on film.

Fun that the timeline allowed more insults to be thrown at Dominic Cummings via his just-barely-an-analogue Anthony Sparrow. Not to mention Herron's fellow Oxford alumnus, the former PM.

I also appreciated the self-mockery in a minor character being described as "an espionage novelist whose recent decalogy about a mole hunt in the upper echelons of what she referred to as the Fairground had her pegged by some as the heir to le Carré – one of an admittedly long list of legatees". (There was also a blatant George Smiley reference when Malcolm Kyle "had removed his glasses and was polishing them on the thick end of his tie".)

Maybe a bit fan-service-y, but this made me laugh:
"I've heard he’s a grandpa now," said Miles. For a moment, he chewed this over, as if contemplating all the futures that might await David Cartwright’s grandson. Then: "Pity the poor kid."
Intentional or not (I imagine it's mainly in the interest of facilitating the stories Herron wants to tell), the continuing conflation or combination of MI5 and MI6 was more jarring to me here than elsewhere with so much of the book taking place in Berlin, but it doesn't really matter.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm reading it right now, and enjoying it. It's absolutely in the world of the Slow Horses, and readers of that series will recognise locations, characters, and lore. However, it's not essential at all to have read that series - the perspective is from the periphery of the secret world, not the gutters of it.

That said, it is the most indebted to Le Carre of anything Mick Herron has written (and that's saying a lot!) - behind the arch cynicism and the brutal jabs against Boris and Dom, the same rage is simmering away.

Also, I will never quite look at a badger in the same way ever again...
posted by prismatic7 at 1:38 AM on September 17, 2023

I’m a great fan of Herron… hadn’t yet heard about this one, though! I’ll see if my library offers it, God willing.
posted by rabia.elizabeth at 7:26 AM on September 18, 2023

This was great! Really rounded out the universe and backstory of some slow horses ppl.
posted by lalochezia at 6:57 PM on November 22, 2023

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