This was originally published in the early 1980s as A Very British Coup and centres on Harry Perkins, a former steel worker who leads a very left-wing Labour government to a general election victory. Inevitably, The Establishment is appalled at the idea and proceeds to conspire to bring down the government.
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this novel for several reasons, the first of which is that it wasn’t the book I expected. Th e cover blurb claims that Secret State predicted the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, which it doesn’t. This was written shortly after Michael Foot became leader of the Labour Party but before they were flattened in the 1983 General Election. However, Chris Mullin doesn’t spend much time on how a very left-wing Labour party gets elected, he takes this as a given and jumps straight into what really interests him, which is Establishment conspiracies.
This brings me to my second problem with the novel which is that I really couldn’t buy into the conspiracy at the heart of the novel. While I can buy that various elements of society would seek to oppose, destabilise and bring down such a government, the sort of overt and organised conspiracy depicted felt like a stretch too far.
It’s possible that, if you share Mullin’s world-view, you may this conspiracy easier to accept. And you would have to accept it out of the box because the author doesn’t really make any effort to justify either his premise or his assumptions.
This is not helped by the thinness of the characterisation. None of the characters are really developed and they all feel like walk-on parts with no purpose other than to advance the machinations of the conspiracy at the heart of the book. Personal consequences are either skimmed over or completely absent leaving no real sense of the impact of the events being portrayed.
All this adds up to quite a disappointing book. There is a really good idea at the heart of it and one that could deliver a really gripping political thriller. Unfortunately, Secret State is not that novel.