A Secret Worth Killing For, Berthon’s last novel, was, for me, a speculative buy, I didn’t know the author, I didn’t know what to expect, I took a punt. Initially I thought I was getting decent but fairly standard political thriller, high on energy but a bit light on insight. Not so, gradually the complicity of the tale began to emerge and I became more and more intrigued by the layering of subplots, the levels of duplicity and double dealing ramped up, this was a cracking plot. Ultimately, it was a satisfying and engrossing read. So I was well up for A Time to Lie and, pleasingly, I got what I was expecting – more intricate intrigue, double dealing, revenge, political shenanigans and murder. In A Time to Lie the past won’t stay buried. But what does the discovery of a body from thirty years ago really mean for the PM? Was he somehow involved? Is his old friend trying to protect him or is he out to ruin him? Just how much integrity does a politician have? A Time to Lie is a page turner with a bit of depth, plenty of twists and a nice kick in guts at the end to make the reader rethink the things they’ve discovered. I like Berthon’s exploration of moral issues; what depths people would a man go to to cover up murder? It’s all about how corrosive and seductive power actually is. The story is set in modern day London, pre-covid, the issues at the heart of the story are very topical and this relevance adds to the enjoyment of the novel.
It starts as workmen on a site digging up a service road on a derelict site on Bankside discover something horrible; plastic wrapping and little metal rings, a shower curtain, inside a human hand.
PM Robin Sandford is addressing a white middle-class audience, it’s the Tory party conference, three thousand members on the BICC hall; mostly on side – until now. The PM spouts the usual stuff about a brighter future after Brexit and an end to Marxism. Then a departure from the script; Britain has to tackle it’s relationship to rogue states, control it’s arms sales, uphold the values of democracy. Chancellor and Deputy-PM Henry Morland-Cross looks daggers, he wasn’t informed of this change of policy. That’s the political background.
In the aftermath of the speech, in front of the cameras, Jed Fowkes, the Chancellor’s political advisor, corners the PM. He has to talk to him, it’s not about his boss, ambitions or policy. This is about something that happened thirty years ago when the two men shared a flat with another man Mikey Miller, a banker, in Notting Hill. Before their careers took off. Sandford and Fowkes have long gone different ways on policy but the PM grasps there’s some urgency about his old friend’s request so he makes some time for a meeting. There was a girl, a Hungarian, November 1991, she came back to the apartment after a long boozy night out. Sandford and the girl got close according to Fowkes, something happened, after that the girl disappeared, no more was heard. Fowkes is adamant that the PM was involved with the girl and that he helped cover it up when she collapsed. Someone is sending him threatening letters, blackmail, suggesting the hand that was just discovered belongs to Andrea. The PM can’t remember the night, he was drinking and partying hard at the time, eventually got burned out and needed a therapist, his mind is a blank about Andrea. Can Sandford trust Fowkes? The PM needs to investigate his own past, he has to find someone he can trust to do that, he also needs MI5 to investigate whether there’s a plot to bring him down now that’s he’s gone rogue on the sacred issue of defence. A dark murky story of trafficking and murder emerges. Just who are the good guys, are there any?
A perfect Christmas selection for fans of the political thriller that reads lightly but has a bit more to it than you might expect. Might appeal to fans of Rod Reynolds and Holly Watt and, possibly, Sam Bourne.
HQ, Hardback, ISBN 9780008214463, Out 10th December.