What is "Tales of MI7"?
In the 21st century world of MI7, decency still outshines malice, truth gives falsehood a good run for its money, and tolerance confounds intolerance.
Tales of MI7 is a series of full-length novels about a group of spies and their adversaries in 21st century Britain. It comprises eighteen novels, the last of which appeared in 2020. Although each volume is broadly independent of the others, the protagonists remain the same, and there is additional continuity in terms of the real-world backdrop. The series deals with the possibilities and pitfalls of developments in contemporary global and domestic politics: from tax avoidance to Brexit to fake news; from Putin's Russia to Assad's Syria to ISIS; from the alt-right to the dark web to artificial intelligence. These are espionage novels that prove realism and pessimism don't always go together.
The spies of MI7 are based partly in Thames House (left, above), and partly in the SIS building at Vauxhall Cross (right, above), both in central London, and in real life the headquarters of MI5 and MI6 respectively. In the books, they are led by a late middle-aged black woman called Ruby Parker, head of Red Department, one of five roughly autonomous 'levels' within the MI7 organisation, all named after colours: White, Red, Blue, Grey, Black.
The novels fall into three groups: (1) a prequel, Our Woman in Jamaica, which features a young Ruby Parker in the field during the Jamaican general election of 1980; (2) books 1-3, The Kramski Case, The Girl from Kandahar and The Vengeance of San Gennaro; (3) The John Mordred books, beginning with The Eastern Ukraine Question, and ending with Ruby Parker's Last Orders.
The Kramski Case and The Girl from Kandahar go together in many ways, although they can be read separately. Their central character is a young woman called Marcie Brown. Marcie develops by degrees into a useful spy, although the process half kills her and others. The Kramski Case is essentially a ripping yarn about the 2010 British general election. Its sequel is a much more serious book, and addresses British foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, albeit obliquely.
The front cover of The Girl from Kandahar features a blurry image of a woman and a rather taller young man outside Oxford Circus tube station. The author's wife and his youngest son.
The Vengeance of San Gennaro is the third book in the series, and is in some ways unlike any of the others. Even Ruby Parker appears only briefly, at the end. It deals with a British spy called Gavin Freedman and the woman he is dispatched to spy on: a fine artist called Giuditta Cancellieri. It includes low-level supernatural elements, and raises questions about truth and meaning and the purpose of life.
The third group of Tales of MI7 novels features John Mordred. Mordred first appears as a young man of 28, in The Eastern Ukraine Question. A languages genius and a brilliant detective; blond, tall, and kind to animals; anarchistic, pacifistic. A spy by profession rather than disposition, he won't necessarily die for Queen and Country (though he might think about it for the RSPCA). Naturally, he always gets the job done.
Despite its title, The Eastern Ukraine Question isn't set in Ukraine, but in Siberia. The reasons for this are set out in the novel's first chapter, in a discussion between Mordred, his boss, Sir Ranulph Farquarson (the head of Grey Department, who Mordred is working for at this stage in the book), and a group of Russian oligarchs. The novel also introduces Mordred's colleagues: Phyllis, Annabel, Gina, Alec and Ian. And later, his four sisters - Hannah, Charlotte, Julia and Mabel - all of whom go on to play important roles in later novels. See the characters page for more details.
The Social Magus is about the desire many people have for 'genuine' politicians, and was partly inspired by a non-fiction book by the contemporary British journalist and broadcaster, Peter Oborne, called The Triumph of the Political Class (Simon and Schuster, 2007). Unlike many subsequent real-life populist politicians, the hero of The Social Magus, Chapman Hill, is a good guy. Nevertheless, Mordred is assigned to look into his finances. Of course, he gets a lot more than he bargained for. Especially since his own sister is not only involved with Hill's political party, but with Hill romantically.
Encounter with ISIS begins with a long discussion between Mordred and his colleague, Alec Cunningham, about teenagers being radicalised online by extremists, and the degree to which they might be held accountable for their subsequent actions. Mordred believes there really is such a thing as brainwashing; Alec is not so sure. This sets the tone for the book, because a 14-year-old daughter of a government minister has gone missing, and there are strong reasons to suspect she's gone to Syria.
World War O (the 'O' stands for Offshore) is about tax avoidance, and is set principally on the island of Jersey. If that sounds prosaic, it may come as a surprise to learn that events there come close to replicating the spirit of Woodstock in '69.
The New Europeans is set in the weeks immediately prior to Brexit, and was written contemporaneously with the lead-up to that event. It tries to look at what the New Europe might look like, and it explores the obvious fact that not everyone who wants the demise of the EU has the interests of the majority of its citizens at heart.
Libya Story is precisely that: a story about Libya - specifically what happens when a group of unknowns kidnap Mordred's younger sister, Mabel, who works for Médecins Sans Frontières. It seeks to go beyond stereotypes about radical Islamists and corrupt governments. Like World War O, it contains an extensive afterword detailing the author's research. It is optimistic.
Little War in London, looks at the tortuous maze of disinformation and the rise of the alt-right created by the convergence of social media platforms and general elections. It was written in 2017, and ends with Theresa May calling a parliamentary election.
In The Square Mile Murder, John Mordred has to deal with five missing IMF officials, a related cover-up in Whitehall, a young and unpredictable Lord Mayor (with acute delusions of grandeur), plus - most bizarrely - persistent rumours of local UFO sightings across London. All this after being stabbed almost to death.
The Ultimate Londoner, the 9th book in the John Mordred series - and the 13th volume of Tales of MI7 - straddles the line between espionage writing and science fiction. Death in a Half Foreign Country returns to the themes of World War O, but with a difference.
The BBC Hunters deals with Russian "web brigades. It looks at the vexed question of whether any media outlet, anywhere, can truly be impartial, and where impartiality ranks in a family of values that includes justice, freedom of thought and truth. The Seductive Scent of Empire looks at the internecine wars in MI7, and raises the disturbing question of whether there are still people in the British establishment who would like a return to the days when a third of the globe was coloured pink.
Humankind 2.0 takes genetic engineering as its chief focus, and considers whether humanity in its present form is really capable of taking the kind of drastic action required to prevent environmental catastrophe. Ruby Parker's Last Orders takes us back to Russian interference, and sees Ruby Parker leave Thames House for the final time.