Secret State by Chris Mullin

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Secret State by Chris Mullin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: First published in 1982 as A Very British Coup but still fresh and relevant - it's probably the classic political thriller. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846687402

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This book was first published in 1982 as A Very British Coup

Chris Mullin has long been one of my political heroes. He's an honest man in a profession where events have shown that it's been all too easy to be otherwise. His daughters are his best friends and he's worked in public life for the good of the public rather than his own benefit. His diaries may well prove to be the definitive volume on the Blair years. He's campaigned and been an investigative journalist, but for some reason I had never read his classic political thriller – perhaps the classic political thriller - A Very British Coup, now republished as Secret State.

No one had anticipated that Labour would win the election, not least because the party leader was Harry Perkins, a former steel worker. His manifesto included promises to remove all American bases from British soil, public control of finance and the dismantling of media empires. There were a few other things too – but they'll do for starters. The establishment – to a man – was appalled. Press barons, media stars, bishops and civil service mandarins knew that, for the good of the country (not themselves, of course) something had to be done and obviously the end would justify whatever means they had to take to achieve their aims. Harry Perkins had to be removed from office.

It would have been easy to depict Harry as being naïve but Mullin is cleverer than that. He's street-wise and well aware of the tactics which the Civil Service would use to try and thwart him. He knew that the Bank of England would try and give him a scare by letting the pound sink against the dollar. What he hadn't realised was that the establishment does not play fair and that he would always face an uphill struggle.

A Very British Coup (now Secret State) was first published in 1982 and I did wonder if I would find it dated. I needn't have worried – the book is utterly timeless. I would read about something and my mind would jump to some fairly recent event and assume that was the allusion – only to realise that the book was published a quarter of a century beforehand. I'd link some of the characters with current politicians – or media barons, or whatever and realise quite how prescient the book was. Politics – and government – are a truly dirty business.

If you want to read the book as a story then you'll find a rattling good thriller with some elegant twists which it's impossible to put down. I read it in one glorious sitting and was deeply resentful when I got to the end. There is though a strong moral message about the power which is wielded by people who have never been elected to any office and who have reached their positions by virtue of self-interest. Unfortunately nothing has improved since the book was written.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Do read Chris Mullins diaries – they're as readable as his fiction. It's difficult to find a political thriller which comes even close to this classic but we can recommend Power Play by Gavin Esler as a good holiday read. You might also enjoy Time of Lies by Douglas Board.

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