Book Review: Official Secrets

Yes! Yes! Yes!! Thank you Facebook for your spooky algorithm-spy stuff … for without you I wouldn’t have known about this genuinely unputdownable, electrifying thriller. When I read the pitch line – ‘I Am Pilgrim meets Line of Duty’ – I was smitten. It’s spot-on! Official Secrets is an invigorating, machiavellian spy thriller that’ll have you looking over your shoulder … if you can just tear yourself away from the pages.

contemporary fiction | thriller | crime

Rating: 4 out of 5.

back cover blurb

After a devastating political assassination, two reporters stand between the truth and a conspiracy that will shock the world.

Tom Novak and Stella Mitchell are covering the aftermath of a chilling terror attack targeting the British Prime Minister and a U.S. Cabinet member. But the further the American and English pair investigate, the more holes they find in the official version of events.

With help from a maverick CIA officer and a brilliant intelligence analyst, Novak and Mitchell uncover evidence of an extraordinary conspiracy involving the White House, the British government, and a shadowy deep-state organization.

As conspirators close in from all sides, Novak and Mitchell must risk everything to track down the one source who can break their story and expose the truth. On the run for their lives, they will find out just how far those in power are willing to go to preserve their secrets…

Author Andrew Raymond | Published independently in July 2018 | Pages416 (e-book)

I would like to thank Andrew Raymond for providing me with a copy of Official Secrets in return for an honest review.

my thoughts

I feel I ought to start this review with a sincere thank you to Andrew Raymond for bringing my spy thriller drought to an end. I’m a little late to the party – Official Secrets was published in 2018 – but when it came to my attention courtesy of Facebook advertising, I was powerless to resist a book likened to apex thriller; I Am Pilgrim, and drama doyen; Line of Duty.  Admittedly I approached with a degree of trepidation – they are two supremely strong accolades to aspire to – but never has a marketing pitch been more perfect.

Official Secrets boasts all the crucial ingredients of an invigorating spy thriller; blistering pace, layers of intrigue, twists and turns, rogue agents, machiavellian politicians, cover-ups, terrorists, and a healthy dash of credible and likeable good guys ’n’ gals. It pits the darker dealings of politics, and the shady workings of global security, against the cut-throat world of the press.

The books sets off at a pulse-pounding pace from the very first page, with a young Polish conspiracy theorist capturing a CIA black-ops rendition on camera.  What he believes will be the making of his YouTube channel changes in the blink of an eye to a high-stakes game of cat and mouse … with armed agents hell bent on stopping that footage seeing the light of day, at any cost. 

Before you’ve had time to draw breath you’re plunged inside the unforgiving anonymous walls of a military ‘black site’, where CIA officer Walter Sharp is softening-up the suspect who was renditioned to his facility just a couple of hours earlier. But Sharp’s instincts tell him that all isn’t what it seems with this prisoner, and during his questioning Abdul al-Malik makes an unexpected confession which triggers an unstoppable series of events. 

There’s something rotten at the heart of British politics that’s inveigled itself into MI6 and GCHQ. Something so corrupt that a handful of powerful individuals are prepared to sanction an attack on the very heart of British politics to protect their secrets.  The chapter in which the bomb goes off was incredibly immersive; I couldn’t look away from the page, every detail so well observed and documented that I felt I was standing at the gates of Downing Street, watching the atrocity unfold with my own eyes. In fact, when I saw No10 on the news later that evening I was genuinely surprised to see it damage-free.

Whilst the majority of the press are obediently regurgitating what’s been briefed by the political PRs, two acclaimed journalists – Tom Novak and Stella Mitchell – are alerted to number of discrepancies and coincidences that the security services are working hard to sweep under the carpet.  Their investigations quickly bring them to the attention of a dangerous, private political enterprise who have the manpower and money to act with seeming impunity to protect their interests. Before long, Novak and Mitchell are being hunted through the streets and budget hotels of London and Washington as they fight to gather the evidence they need for their blistering exposé. 

Novak’s desk was empty apart from a two-tier plastic tray sat to one side. The top level was marked “Fan mail”, the bottom “Death threats”

Their search for the truth wouldn’t be possible without the clandestine assistance of Rebecca Fox, a talented GCHQ senior analyst. The night before the bombing, Rebecca’s colleague Abbie appears to have committed suicide at a GCHQ safehouse … but Abbie isn’t quite who she seemed to be, and the events at the safehouse aren’t quite as they first appear.  Just minutes before her death Abbie sends a number of top secret mission files to Rebecca, urging her to make contact with Tom Novak; an introduction that begins to slot the many craftily-dangled teasers and puzzle-pieces into place.

I can honestly say that Official Secrets is a slick, exhilarating, and well-researched read, with surprising dashes of sassy humour.  Conspiracy and mistrust are rife, yet the book’s main characters are easy to like and engage with.  The author creates an incredibly vivid sense of place … from less salubrious Lambeth backstreets to the affluent porticos of Pimlico; from GCHQ’s climatically controlled computer rooms to a homeless refugee community living under a bridge in Berlin; from interrogation rooms secreted in Polish woodland to Westminster’s corridors of power … your imagination doesn’t have to work hard at all to place itself, leaving you free to focus your attention on the many characters and rapidly developing storyline.  And just you wait until you reach the point with the car chase through Central London – just wow – I left fingernail marks in my kindle case! 

As Both cars tore down Millbank beside the Thames, half on the pavement, half in the bike lane. Leckie knew there would be little scope to lose a tail around the busy Wandsworth Road, and the next set of lights at the crossroads ahead were red. Traffic from the right was just setting off, led by a red double-decker bus. Leckie floored it, shouting, “Hold on!”

As is to be expected, code names, shady-tech, and spook-jargon pepper the conversations, but they are explained either by the character’s conversation or within the background narrative so smoothly that I never felt like an outsider.  However, there were a small number of times where I found myself floundering a little in the face of the American political and journalistic references, but they were central to the setting of those particular chapters, and it was my own lack of familiarity which made these short exchanges heavy going, not the author’s.

I’d downloaded both the sequels (#2 Capitol Spy and #3 Traitor Games) before I’d even finished chapter five of Official Secrets. And when I reached the concluding paragraphs of the epilogue I was high-fiving my own foresight.  The book wraps up with a tidy, satisfying conclusion … and my word what a cliffhanger!

Get your copy of Official Secrets from AmazonUK

For exclusive content and advance notice of new books, click here to access Andrew’s website

about Andrew Raymond

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved telling stories…

I’ve been a fan of thrillers ever since watching All the President’s Men when I was far too young to understand what was going on. Now every day I get to indulge in my passion for fast-paced stories, characters you really care about, and to bring you behind the scenes of the intelligence agencies and the most secretive parts of the political world (the parts they don’t want you to know about).

It’s often said in my reviews that I write cinematically, which isn’t a coincidence, as my influences are as much in cinema as literature: Daniel Craig’s Bond films, Glengarry Glen RossSpartan. TV has also been a major factor in my writing. From the original BBC miniseries State of Play, David Simon’s The Wire, and Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing;  and the US version of House of Cards.

After a spell being traditionally published, I decided to go it alone with my Novak and Mitchell series. I love being in control of everything that’s put out there, from the direction of book cover design to marketing and website design.

I have worked in the book industry since I was 21.

You can follow me on Amazon | GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook

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