For anyone remotely interested in the security services, Soldier Spy is a fascinating and eye-opening read from former MI5 officer, Tom Marcus. Sharing the background to his story, through his military life and recruitment into the secret organisation, to the day-to-day operations of an undercover officer, he opens up a world that many are unfamiliar with and even oblivious to, in a somewhat surprising level of detail. The insights into tracking suspects, inveigling themselves into the surroundings and networks of terrorists and the training and methods that go into the work of MI5 officers is perhaps even more astounding that you’d think, and though it doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as Hollywood would have us believe – the incredibly long hours, the physical and psychological stress and the often hostile and oppressive set-ups tend not to plague James Bond and his cohorts – it certainly is as breathtaking. Indeed, at times the memoir reads like fiction – some of the situations and scenarios seem so unbelievable, so incredible, that they feel like they’re straight out of a novel. It is no surprise therefore that Marcus has since turned his hand to fiction, with a debut novel released last year, Capture or Kill. But I can’t quite imagine any character more compelling than Marcus himself, who comes across a truly remarkable individual. He is gifted with an incredible ability to observe and pick up on his surroundings – a skill which has been honed and refined by his employers – as well as a capacity to blend in, but for me it is his determination and self-drive that really set him apart and make him into the heroic figure that he comes across as. He is a very special individual and just the sort of person you would want protecting the country, but there’s a real humanity to him, not least in his struggles with the realities of his job and the conflict with family life. And I felt somewhat disappointed in how the security services seemed to abandon him when he had to leave his post. Although perhaps there is some post-service assistance to former employees, it did seem a particularly difficult adjustment to me, to try and integrate into civilian life when the secrecy of one’s past makes that all the more uneasy. Similarly, it is a great shame that individuals like Marcus don’t get the national recognition they deserve, but again it’s an incredible testament to the men and women in these roles of their sacrifices and commitment without the need for the acclaim. This book goes some way to allowing the public to see and understand the unique talents, skills and sacrifices of these hidden defenders of the realm, and to encourage readers to appreciate the incredibly important and tough work that Marcus and his colleagues are undertaking every day. Obviously there’s a largely positive gloss on the narrative in the book, but for me it is just recognition of all of the great work being done. It is honestly another world out there, and it’s testament to the security services that most of us are unaware of it in our daily lives at all.
J. Craddock 5*
Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus
Penguin 9781405927895 pbk Mar 2017