Cover image of "Secret Service," the first in a series of British spy novels

Spy novels are full of stories about the hunt for moles in the CIA, MI6, and other intelligence agencies. It’s less common to come across a tale in which the mole is embedded in the uppermost reaches of the political establishment. And perhaps that’s no coincidence. Authors of spy literature are often former espionage officers themselves and intimately familiar with spycraft. Less often are they knowledgeable about the dynamics of politics. But that’s no barrier for Tom Bradby, one of Britain’s top broadcast journalists. And he shows it in Secret Service, the first of a series of British spy novels—three to date—about the extraordinary Kate Henderson of MI6.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A dramatic tip from Moscow

Kate Henderson is no field agent grappling with brush passes and chalk marks on walls. She’s at the top of her game in MI6, presiding over “Russia House” and number three in the agency. She reports directly to “C,” who seems to regard her as his natural successor. And Kate has just received a tip from someone in Russian intelligence: Although few know it, Britain’s Prime Minister is gravely ill. And one of the leading candidates to replace him at 10 Downing Street is a Russian asset. To make matters worse, there’s someone embedded at a high level in London who will serve as the conduit for orders from Moscow. But the operation Kate mounts to determine whether these charges are real, or just disinformation from the SVR, quickly goes south . . . and Kate herself comes under suspicion.

Secret Service (Kate Henderson #1) by Tom Bradby (2019) 368 pages ★★★★★

Photo of the headquarters of MI6, the locale in this first of a series of British spy novels
A view of SIS’s Vauxhall Cross headquarters, viewed from across the River Thames. Image: Laurie Nevay – Wikipedia

Two candidates for No. 10 Downing Street

Despite the lack of corroboration from Kate’s operation, evidence begins to mount that the tip from Moscow was anything but disinformation. The Prime Minister is, in fact, visibly ill, then abruptly resigns. The race to succeed him quickly narrows down to two candidates: the Foreign Secretary, James Ryan, and the Secretary of State for Education, Imogen Conrad. MI5 had reported no red flags on the record of either of the two. But when Kate sets her staff to a deeper dive, the Foreign Minister begins to look more and more suspicious. And Kate’s husband, Stuart Henderson, was Imogen Conrad’s long-time private secretary (equivalent to a chief of staff in US politics). She seems above reproach. But soon, as the battle between the two Ministers heats up, intrigue, suspicion, and recriminations within MI6 come to a boil—and violence intrudes. In a story that’s tense to the end, Kate is tested as never before.

About the author

Photo of Tom Bradby, author of this series of British spy novels
Tom Bradby. Image: Twitter

Tom Bradby was born in Malta in 1967, the son of an officer in the Royal Navy. He was educated in private schools in England, then studied history at the University of Edinburgh. Bradby has worked for ITV News since 1990 and currently presents the ITV News at Ten. Since 1998, he has written nine novels. He and his wife, the daughter of a vice-admiral, attended both of the individual weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry, both of whom they know personally.

I’ve also reviewed Yesterday’s Spy by Tom Bradby (A gripping spy novel set amid an Iranian coup) and the sequel to Secret Service, Double Agent (Upheaval in MI6—and a prime minister who may be a traitor)

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