This Is What Happened by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

Something’s happened.

A lot of things have happened.

If there was a way of rolling back time, she wondered how far she would go.

Twenty-six-year-old Maggie Barnes is someone you would never look at twice.  Living alone in a month-to-month sublet in London, with no family except an estranged sister, no boyfriend or partner, and not much in the way of friends, Maggie is just the king of person who could vanish from the face of the earth without anyone taking notice.

Or just the kind of person MI5 needs to thwart an international plot that puts the whole of Britain at risk.

Now one young woman has the chance to be a hero – if she can think quickly enough to stay alive. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

26-year-old Maggie Barnes moved to London after finishing a relationship with the undesirable Jezza in order to follow in the footsteps of her older sister Meredith.  But while Meredith enjoys a high-powered job, a higher-powered car, a glossy flat and a successful boyfriend, Maggie lives in a grotty flat-share miles away from Quilp House, a high-rise office block that houses a finance company and where she works a dead-end job in the post-room.  She has no friends – not even on her social media accounts and no one notices her; no one that is, apart from Harvey Wells, an MI5 agent who approaches her in a café one day and asks her to perform a vital mission for her country.  But when something goes wrong, Maggie finds herself in hiding, locked away from a world gone to hell and with only Harvey to rely on …

Mick Herron’s standalone psychological thriller is an interesting, if ultimately unsatisfying affair that makes excellent use of misdirection and manipulation and features a genuinely creepy antagonist but which suffers from the fact that Maggie is so passive and accepting that it becomes increasingly difficult to sympathise with her plight, coupled with an ending that I found disappointingly open-ended.

The opening chapters to the book are completely gripping as Herron splits between Maggie attempting to carry out her mission and the backstory of how she was approached by Harvey.  Herron is a master of building tension, mixing high stakes with mundane details to create a sense of realism.  The time jump to the safe house 2 years later is well handled and I really enjoyed the way Herron created the sense of British society having collapsed, all as described by Harvey and seen by Maggie through the prism of the small basement flat she now hides in.

Where the book falls down though is where Herron begins to recount what really happened.  On the one hand, I really liked his portrayal of Harvey and the slow reveal of his secrets and personality.  He’s genuinely creepy and when you re-read the book once you have all of the background on him, you realise how horrifying the situation really is. The problem is that you also realise how passive and unquestioning Maggie is and although there is a case to be made for the fact that she trusts Harvey because she has no reason not to and Herron builds in the background to her relationship with the controlling and abusive Jezza to explain why she is the way she is, I found her neediness and lack of curiosity to be deeply frustrating.  This is particularly the case after a scene where she persuades Harvey to let her go outside where Herron uses a conflation of circumstance to further suppress any desire Maggie may have to change her situation.

Meredith is more interesting, mainly because of the way Herron establishes the relationship between the sisters and the reasons why it was so poor and how guilt, coupled with the loss of both job and fiancé had provoked Meredith to try and re-establish contact.  However, the circumstances that bring her into contact with Harvey are strained to the point of being barely credulous and although I enjoyed her dogged determination to get to the truth, it was hampered by the fact that it never really rang true.  None of this is helped by the ending, which I found a little too open-ended and, given all the set-up of the relationship between the sisters, didn’t really provide much in the way of closure – especially given the trauma that Maggie would no doubt experience on discovering the truth.

Ultimately, I don’t think this is a bad book – there is a lot here to enjoy, but it just didn’t add up to a satisfying read for me (although as a fan of his JACKSON LAMB SERIES this would in no way deter me from checking out Herron’s other work).

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED was released in the United Kingdom on 7thJune 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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