...the sharpest spy fiction since John Le Carré ... Herron's new novel stands apart from that series, but like all his work, it sucks you in from the opening page. There we meet Maggie Barnes, a 26-year-old country lass who's moved to London only to find herself stuck in a drab office job and enduring a crushing loneliness ... Before we know it, what looks at first like your basic spy thriller morphs into something far different — a tricky game of three-character monte filled with sly twists that Herron reveals with the precision of a high-end Swiss watchmaker ... Now, not all of these twists are, strictly speaking, realistic. But who cares? To crib a line from Hitchcock, This Is What Happened is less a slice of life than a slice of cake.
As it begins, This is What Happened appears to favour Nobody Walks more than the Jackson Lamb series, being another dark, standalone spy thriller set in London ...the increasingly regular meetings with Harvey first taking Maggie into his confidence; the piecemeal revelations about China’s war with Europe and the part Maggie could play in it; everything plays out very much like a seduction, and is a very accomplished piece of writing ... If This is What Happened begins as a thriller similar to Eric Ambler’s stories of ordinary people plunged into political intrigue, it moves into psychological noir territory. If Hitchcock was still alive and making movies I imagine he would be moving Heaven and Earth for the rights ... There are also themes of alienation in modern life, how easy it is to become lost and alone in a city of several millions, and ultimately how important it is to keep those dear to you close.
Maggie Barnes, the 26-year-old mailroom worker in Mick Herron’s surprising This Is What Happened, seems little more than an anonymous face in the crowd ... Mr. Herron cleverly employs the tropes of spy fiction to construct a frightening psychological puzzle. He then transforms the conundrum into yet another unexpected story, one that leaves the reader hoping for a resolution that may or may not materialize.
Like his other books, this one resides where escapism and political paranoia meet. Planted firmly in the realm of the possible, his works toy with 21st-century fears and manias: terrorism, government deceit, economic meltdowns and hostage-takers ... At the same time, Herron enters the minds of his characters, allowing us access to multiple points of view and emotions and logic that are slightly askew or tortuously twisted ... That he accomplishes all this while interspersing the hair-raising with the humorous is quite a feat. He’s a trickster, a wit, a cynic, a slippery rogue of a storyteller who is unapologetic about leading the reader astray, but who makes the diversion worthwhile ... This Is What Happened will challenge your assumptions and your doubts. It drills deeply into the nature of cruelty and trust.
In clipped, stylish prose, Mick Herron’s sly, twisty, bullet-paced narrative tracks Maggie’s journey from a skittish participant in her own life to a reluctant recruit in something diabolical. Suddenly, Maggie’s life becomes a Patricia Highsmith story.
Mick Herron's standalone This Is What Happened begins in medias res, with 26-year-old Maggie Barnes hiding in a bathroom in a high-rise building during a dangerous spy mission ... And that's all anyone should know before starting this thriller. Part of its impact comes from the discoveries. Herron constantly throws in plot bombs to blow up expectations. His sentences have no wasted words; they're just long enough to land their punches and leave. The story goes to dark, disturbing places, but not without a sense of humor ... Readers can trust Herron knows exactly what he's doing, even if what happened may not be what happened.
Mind games and Herron’s distinctive dark humour abound, and readers will spot that Harvey isn’t what he appears to be long before Maggie does. It all serves to rachet up tension for a compelling and claustrophobic three-hander, told with admirable economy.
This Is What Happened is a different beast: a standalone, it shies away from the stinging humour that makes Herron’s Slough House books so appealing, to paint instead a spine-crawlingly creepy portrait of cruelty and of loneliness ... Herron moves back and forth in time to show how this very ordinary post office worker was recruited ... springing twist after brilliant twist as he practically dares his reader to try to put the book down. I finished it at a gallop, sitting in the car while I willed my baby to stay asleep. Very impressive.
The latest stand-alone from Herron couldn’t be more different from his bustling, often brutally funny series about the government agents at Slough House. This pared-down exercise in suspense is just plain brutal ... Suffice it to say that Herron spins a remarkable, if often blankly incredible, tale whose dramatis personae are limited to three characters, one walk-on, and a few others dimly or harshly remembered ... Given Herron’s outrageous premise, the complications are managed with delicious control. Only the last act stumbles, because the climax is the only part of this story that’s remotely predictable.
...[a] beautifully written and ingeniously plotted standalone from Herron... What at first appears to be a tale of spycraft and intrigue turns out to be something quite different — a disturbing portrait of contemporary England, with its 'drip-drip-drip of sour resentment' (pre- and post-Brexit) and the palpable anomie of London ... This dark thriller is rife with the deadpan wit and trenchant observation that Herron’s readers relish.