MI7's central characters
It isn't possible to give a list of all the characters in Tales of MI7. Here are the more central ones, in order of importance.
1. Ruby Parker
Ruby Parker is by far the most important figure in Tales of MI7, and the only one to appear in all the books. As a young woman, she was assigned to monitor a general election in Jamaica with a view to ensuring a peaceful transition to a less socialist government. Things went wrong, but then things went right, and to ensure they would stay that way, some of her friends in MI6 conspired to put her in a position of authority. In 2001, MI5 and MI6 merged to create MI7, and she was handed overall responsibility for Red Department, one of five semi-independent units under the new organisation's umbrella. Red's brief, as she explains in The Kramski Case, is, "very roughly... to disrupt despotic and protect democratic regimes.” In Little War in London, when she gets into trouble with her superiors in Whitehall, John Mordred is prompted to ruminate on her significance. "She’d likely battled powerful men all her life. A lot of them wouldn’t relish seeing a woman in a position of authority, and for the worst, a black woman was probably a particular bugbear... But trying to envisage her thoughts was a matter of knowing what someone in her position, undergoing what she’d just undergone, would think. Abstract. About a conjectural more than an actual person. Because the truth was, he knew next to nothing about her." She likes to keep it that way.
2. John Mordred
In the first chapter of The Social Magus, Alec Cunningham, Mordred's closest male colleague, defuses a particularly tense encounter between Mordred and the Home Secretary by calling the former, "MI7's resident beatnik." And as the saying goes, many a true word is spoken in jest. Red Department is not your normal spy-outfit - it exists to disrupt despotism - and Mordred has a strong mystical-idealistic side. In World War O, alone and on his way by ferry to an island where certain danger awaits, he experiences a characteristic epiphany: "A great feeling of peace stole over him like a breeze, and he knew he was all right. Nothing bad could ever happen to him. He was part of the great universal language. It spoke to him, and he to it." In The Eastern Ukraine Question, he quotes Socrates during a car chase, and tells the heroine that it doesn't matter what happens to them, because they'll be together in the afterlife (understandably, she is expecting a few more practical words of comfort). Blond haired, a little over six foot, and 32 years old (in 2017), in Little War in London, Ruby Parker sums him up thus: "You're a a brilliant linguist and an outstanding detective. Your capabilities in those two fields alone make you one of our most precious assets. As a fist fighter, you’re probably slightly below average, although you can hold your own. Your vegetarianism and your extensive charitable commitments make you unusual in MI7, but they’re by means a handicap." She goes on to say (accurately) that he has a "strong preference for resolving disputes by negotiation rather than force", although she comments that occasionally, that can be a weakness.
3. Phyllis Robinson
Phyllis is the same age as Mordred, but in many ways his opposite. And of course, opposites attract. In The Eastern Ukraine Question, she is described as "a former model with big hair, one-button mosaic suit, and heels. She’d spent eight years in the army and she’d demobbed, it was said, with an aversion to anything baggy or timeworn. She drove certain men wild, especially the elderly librarian type.” The New Europeans describes her as "dark haired, tall, athletic". She actively supports the Conservative Party, and in 2016 emerges as a keen Brexiteer, which sets her at odds with Mordred's four sisters. By this time, she and Mordred are in a committed relationship. She is pragmatic, highly intelligent and witty, and provides the perfect counterfoil to Mordred's sometimes reckless idealism.
4. Alec Cunningham
Alec is Mordred's closest male friend in MI7, and the man who recruited him. The story of how that happened is relayed briefly in chapter 13 of The Eastern Ukraine Question, where Alec is also described. "Tall and square shouldered, the tide was going out on his black hair, but his facial features seemed sturdy enough to cope: well defined jaw, fierce eyes and a nose as pronounced as a letter opener. Yet even in his drab anywhere-in-the-world clothes he looked out of place, like a Whitehall civil servant in costume." Alec is a decade older than Mordred, with three failed marriages behind him. He is much more a kind of action hero than Mordred - a James Bond figure - and consistently prefers cutting the Gordian knot to unpicking it. Before joining MI7, he served in the Grenadier Guards, an infantry regiment of the British army.
5. Annabel Gould al-Banna
In The Eastern Ukraine Question, Mordred mentally assesses Annabel thus: "She was small with long blonde hair tied in three places to make it fall obediently the length of her spine. She preferred flat lace-up shoes and trousers. She had no sense of humour whatsoever and, since she was an expert marksperson and a black belt in karate, your best course was always to stick to the facts.” In The New Europeans, we learn that she was recruited to MI7 fifteen years ago, "a former repeat young offender, now a martial arts and firearms expert." In the first chapter of World War O, she marries MI7's resident information technology manager, Tariq al-Banna. In Encounter With ISIS, the previous novel, she gave strong indications that she was in love with Mordred. But that passes.
6. Edna Watson
Edna is a former 200m Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist. As she explains in World War O, "MI7 didn’t hire me as a disguise artist. They hired me as Edna Watson. I can gain admittance virtually anywhere in the world if I want to, anytime, just by virtue of who I am. And if you’re my relatively insignificant boyfriend, no one will notice that you’ve disappeared – that as a matter of fact, you’re cracking a safe in a completely different part of the building – because they’re so dazzled by the woman who broke the world two hundred metres sprint record in 2013.” In this sense, she is rather like the Mexican heiress, Fenella Decristoforo-Salvaterra, whom Mordred meets on a trip to the Caribbean in World War O, and who is co-opted to MI7 partly for her access to privileged circles. Edna joins MI7 at the same time as another new recruit, Ian Leonard.
7. The Mordred Family
At the end of The Eastern Ukraine Question, John Mordred goes to Britain's biggest music festival, Glastonbury, to meet his four sisters for (it is implied) an annual reunion. "His sisters looked like him, but none of them thought like him. Hannah was four years his senior, tall and wiry with long hair. She worked as a music executive in London and talked about maybe one day signing Adele and Rita Ora. She was married to a paediatrician called Tim. Charlotte was two years older. She wore glasses and had a star tattoo on her left foot, and, together with her husband, she made and sold candles for a living. Julia was one year his
junior. Her waist was thin, her face paintable, and all varieties of men found her sexually attractive. She lived alone in Hampstead on the proceeds of a prizewinning postmodernist novel she’d written in her final year at university. Mabel, the youngest, was twenty. She had a delicate face, everything about her seemed pale, yet she was the cleverest in the family. She studied medicine at Cambridge. She was going to get a First and then do surgery. With the sole exception of John, all the Mordred children aspired to be rich." As well as the four sisters, John Mordred's mother (a teacher) and father (a museum curator) are in good health and still resident in his birthplace: Hexham in Northumberland. Obviously, none of his family know he is a spy. They think he is a travelling salesman for a machine-parts company. As his mother explains, to Hannah, in Libya Story, "John isn’t like you girls. You’re a millionaire, Charlotte’s doing amazing things with that candle-making business of hers; Julia’s won literary prizes, and Mabel’s a medical genius and a saint. John’s not like that. He’s just an ordinary man, and not doing particularly well for himself." Part of the tension of Tales of MI7 derives from John's sisters feeling sorry for him and behaving over-protectively, when, in reality, they often need him as much as he needs them. Because this is a family, there are no winners and losers. Everyone supports everyone. All four sisters appear as major figures in different novels: Julia in The Social Magus, Hannah in World War O, and she, Charlotte and Mabel in Libya Story. Hannah is the manager of a chart-topping band called Fully Magic Coal Tar Lounge, whose lead singer, Soraya, is her best friend and confidante, and widely reputed to be the 'coolest' woman in Britain. "After a short-lived stint on The Voice, she’d been ‘let go' for ‘artistic differences’ with the production team, and similar only-half-explained brouhahas accompanied her wherever she went." Interested readers can find out more about Hannah, Soraya, Julia and Charlotte in Hannah and Soraya’s Fully Magic Generation-Y *Snowflake* Road Trip across America (Matador 2020).
8. Marcie Brown
Marcie appears alongside three other protagonists in The Kramski Case - Sergei Orlov, David Bronstein and Nicholas Fleming - and with the sole remaining member of that team - Fleming - in The Girl From Kandahar. Nevertheless, she is undoubtedly the central figure in both novels, not least because she develops the most. She and Fleming make a re-appearance in The New Europeans, where she helps Mordred negotiate a particularly tight spot. Her father was a member of David Cameron's cabinet. And a serial philanderer. She has much, much more in her background than originally appears, but luckily she has the strength and courage to turn it all to good account.
9. Gavin Freedman
Gavin has a walk-on part in The Kramski Case, but is the central character of The Vengeance of San Gennaro, whose first chapter describes him as, "A twenty-six year-old male research officer ... Five foot ten, dark hair, narrow eyes, with the pallid, sunken cheeks of unsought weight-loss." In the same chapter we learn that his wife, Leah, has just died in tragic circumstances, and that he, himself, is still grieving. Unfortunately, however, no one else is as suited to this particular assignment. He is dispatched to Venice, under the auspices of White Department, to investigate a mysterious gathering of the world's worst criminals, and the involvement of a bellicose conceptual artist called Giuditta Cancellieri. Strange already. But the truth turns out to be even more so.