The Secret Hours by Mick Herron: Review & Book Club Questions

The Secret Hours is Mick Herron’s new standalone spy thriller with bite. Read our full review and our suggested book club discussion question list.

The Secret Hours Book Synopsis

The Secret Hours by Mick Herron, Book Review

A gripping standalone spy thriller from the #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of Slow Horseswith a riveting reveal about a disastrous MI5 mission in Cold War Berlin—an absolute must-read for Slough House fans.

New from the author of Slow Horses, now an Apple Original series from Apple TV+, starring Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Two years ago, a hostile Prime Minister launched the Monochrome inquiry, an auditing of the British Secret Service “to investigate historical over-reaching.” 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 succeeded thwarting the inquiry at every turn. Now the administration that brought Monochrome into being has been ousted, the investigation is a total bust—and Griselda and Malcolm are stuck watching as their career prospects swirl down the drain in 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 highly classified operation in 1994 Berlin—an operation that ended in tragedy and scandal, whose cover-up has rewritten thirty years of Service history.

The Secret Hours is a dazzling entry point into Mick Herron’s body of work, a standalone spy thriller that is at once unnerving, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny. It is also the breathtaking secret history that Slough House fans have been waiting for.

(Soho Press, September 2023)

Genre: Thriller, Crime-Detective, Mystery, Historical, Action

Source: John Murray Books, Youtube

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Book Review

I am a long time fan of Mick Herron’s writing style. His brand of literary flair…

The bright headlight was swallowing everything now, clutching Max in its beam: he could see his own shadow rising up before him like a giant. In a fairy tale, it would turn and smite his pursuers; sound them into the soil.

… interwoven with dark world-weary wit and stinging political and social satire…

I give him eighteen months tops. He’s a walking non-disclosure agreement, and if his domestic entanglements don’t undo him, his disregard for the truth will. No, f@#cking things up is a legacy project with this one. Forget about him now, and save time later.

… has always really appealed to me, and this new standalone novel The Secret Hours does not fail to deliver on that score. If you are more inclined to tell an emperor he is wearing no clothes than standing by polishing a set of rose coloured glasses, then this writing will elicit many wry smiles from you.

The committee as a whole wasn’t exactly composed of free thinkers. One or two were capable of independent thought, but when the whip came down, none would through themselves in front of a foregone conclusion.

But it’s not all clever banter and realpolitik. There are life and death matters at play too, and that’s where The Secret Hours plumbed unexpected depth for me. One of the several alternating first-person narratives takes us back to Berlin in the heady aftermath of reunification, where both vengeance and reinvention were on the menu. When spies are involved, who can a new kid on the block trust? The lies, blackmail and deception kept me turning the pages, eager for the next reveal. And, Herron delivers many in this outing.

If you, or your book club (see my suggested discussion points below!), enjoy complex mystery plotting and moral ambiguity and conflict you can really sink your teeth into, then this companion novel is the perfect entry point into Mick Herron’s Slow Horses world. And, of course, in The Secret Hours series devotees will enjoy learning more about the backstory of a familiar feisty character.

My Rating

Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Where to get your copy of The Secret Hours

Amazon Bookshop US Booktopia AU

More The Secret Hours reviews

“Herron’s lethally witty prose hits a sweet spot in the centre of a triangle whose points are John le Carré, PG Wodehouse — and, perhaps, Ricky Gervais’s The Office.” – Financial Times

“Herron’s cultivated air of default world-weariness doesn’t preclude outbreaks of icy cynicism and admirable idealism as well as a certain wry self-awareness.” – TheGuardian

“Sly and suspenseful, The Secret Hours is both a marvelous standalone novel and a stunning companion to Mick Herron’s Slough House series.” – Bookpage

The Secret Hours Book Club Discussion Questions

The Secret Hours Book Club Discussion Questions
  1. The novel begins with the striking opening line: “The worst smell in the world is a dead badger”. Attention grabber or a broader metaphor?
  2. There are multiple first-person narratives set in different time periods throughout this novel. Which time periods and character perspectives did you find most compelling reading?
  3. Few characters in this novel have entirely clean hands. Were there any you found yourself liking, while feeling you shouldn’t? Discuss the source of that conflict.
  4. What do you think about the choices Alison made? What would you have done in her position?
  5. Mick Herron delivers several ‘reveals’ in this novel. Which did you find most surprising?
  6. Do you think The Secret Hours would be as successful were it adapted for film or TV?
  7. Why do you think some people are attracted to roles in the secret service? Is it a life you would want to lead?
  8. Mick Herron’s social and political commentary is particularly dark at times. Is it hyperbole intended to provoke thought, or perhaps closer to truth than we might like to believe?

About the Book Author, Mick Herron

Mick Herron is a British novelist and short story writer who was born in Newcastle and studied English at Oxford. He is the author of the Slough House espionage series, four Oxford mysteries, and three standalone novels. His work has won the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel, the Steel Dagger for Best Thriller, the Theakston’s Novel of the Year Award, the Palle Rosenkrantz Prize, the Ellery Queen Readers Award and the USC Libraries Scripter Award, and been nominated for the Macavity, Barry and Shamus Awards. He currently lives in Oxford and writes full-time.

Read our reviews of earlier Mick Herron book releases

* My receiving a pre-publication digital copy of The Secret Hours from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.