The case of the missing disk…

Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny

stiastny Thrillers set in the world of modern British politics are not that common compared with those led by the spies who report to the politicians; Acts of Omission is mainly the former. It is the debut novel by a former BBC News reporter who worked in Berlin in the late 1990s and is based upon a true story. There are three main characters:

Mark Lucas, a former television producer, is now a charismatic young minister in the Foreign Office. His office has come into possession of a disk containing the names of British informants to the East German Stasi. The Germans are putting pressure on him to give it to them, but the British diplomatic service would rather not. Visiting Berlin, he is shown the jigsaw operation that is still ongoing to piece together the files that the Stasi shredded when they left.

‘Of course,’ said Ilse quickly. ‘There are people whose whole lives may have been affected by what’s in these sacks of paper. They have a right to know what happened to them, the same as everybody else. It’s not their fault that it’s their files that were destroyed. So it’s our duty to give them that truth back.’

Even if you find our your best friend had informed on you? Even if it compromises national security? These are the dilemmas behind it all, and Mark has to toe the government line in his reply, despite personally being for returning the disk.

The second character is Alex Rutherford. A civil servant – working for the intelligence services in an office based job. The morning after the night before, he wakes up hungover only to realise that his laptop is missing and inside it was the disk – the only copy! He thinks he left it in a taxi home, and sure enough the laptop is in their lost property office, but without the disk.

Thirdly, Anna Travers is a second string journalist on a national newspaper. She gets her big chance when the disk is delivered anonymously, of course, to her paper. Seconded onto the team working on the disk, she has to try and winkle out its secrets and some of them will be difficult to deal with once made public and the right connections made.

Acts of Omission particularly explores the relationships between the government and the press through their front-faces and more murky underbellies. Early on, Anna gets a new boyfriend who works in Downing Street advising the PM and so with her we get taken into Number Ten, the Lobby at Westminster as well as the newsroom. It’s a far cry from door-stepping with by-election candidates in northern towns where Anna starts the novel. Stiastny has obviously put her wealth of experience into making the framework of the novel very credible. Additionally all three leads are very plausible and likeable characters, although Mark is a bit naïve.

The plot twists and turns around the politics and the detective work on the disk. The bureaucracy involved is a little dry at times but authentic and Stiastny manages to keep the suspense going through that to create an enjoyable debut. There’s also room for more novels involving Anna too as her journalistic career begins to fly which would be fun. (8/10)

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Acts of Omission by Terry Stiastny. Pub John Murray 2014, paperback May 2015, 336 pages.


10 thoughts on “The case of the missing disk…

  1. I have this to read but have failed to find the time to get around to it but perhaps I should, given your review. I wondered if it might be something best watched on TV if you get my drift.

  2. I remember Stiastny as a reporter and so although I am not usually a thriller reader I might just give this a whirl. It’s a shame it’s come along too late for the spy section of this year’s summer school.

  3. Okay I know this is only tangentially related, but have you seen State of Play? With John Simm and David Morrissey and Kelly MacDonald and Bill Nighy? It is one of my all-time favorite things, and it is a thriller about modern British politics, and I try to push it on people every chance I get. It’s not at ALL well known here, but perhaps across the pond you have all seen it already (she said wistfully).

    • You’ve reminded me how wonderful the UK TV series was (not the Russell Crowe film which was based on it, although that’s meant to be good) – mind you anything with Bill Nighy, John Simm and David Morrissey in has to be worth watching! It also introduced us to James McAvoy too. I join in with your recommendation – I have the series on DVD and haven’t watched it, although I saw it on TV. Must remedy that! 🙂

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