...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.