Witchfinder by Andrew Williams
English | 2019 |Mystery/Thriller Cold War / Spies| ePUB | 2.3 MB
London 1963. The Beatles, Carnaby Street, mini skirts. But the new mood hasn’t reached the drab and fearful corridors of MI5 and MI6. Many agents joined the secret service to fight the Nazis. Now they are locked in a Cold War against the Russians.
And some of them are traitors.
The service has been shaken to its core by the high-profile defections of Cambridge-educated spies Burgess, MacLean and now Philby. Appalled at such flagrant breaches of British security, the Americans are demanding a rigorous review.
Harry Vaughan is brought back from Vienna to be part of it. The Chief asks him to join two investigators – Arthur Martin and Peter Wright – who are determined to clean out the stables, and the first target of their suspicions is the Deputy Director General of MI5, Graham Mitchell.
‘Williams is an accomplished thriller writer and this may be his best book yet. London in the 1960s, its smoky pubs, damp streets and crackle of sexual liberation is so well portrayed that reading Witchfinder is almost like time travel. Williams blends fact and fiction to make a captivating read.’ Financial Times
‘Rich, densely plotted… If le Carré needs a successor, Williams has all the equipment for the role.’ Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year
I walk to ‘the office’. The cold helps clear my mind: why did I work myself into a state? But turning into Broadway my chest tightens again and I have to stand in the doorway of the Old Star pub to smoke a cigarette. Six o’clock. There’s a steady stream of office workers pouring into the Underground station opposite. Most of them have come from the vast art-deco headquarters of London buses and trains – it dominates the Broadway – but I recognise some Service faces, too. The cigarette isn’t helping; I drop it into a drain. Best get this over.
From the pavement, number 54 Broadway Buildings looks like the smart headquarters of an international corporation; inside it’s a dirty burrow. Stevenson is still behind the security glass in the lobby. He peers at me through National Health spectacles, then asks me to take a seat while he rings the fourth floor. I choose the bench against the wall, opposite the security barrier. I scratched my initials on the arm twenty-three years ago and they’re still there. Same cheap furniture, same dirty cream paint on the walls, same closed and dusty blinds through which daylight struggles to penetrate. Friends can’t imagine it any other way. It’s a hole-in-the-corner sort of business, after all. From the lobby a single iron lift squeaks and grinds to the fourth and seventh floors; friends must climb the staircase to the rest. Office wags say the stair is white-tiled like a urinal because only shits would think to work here.
Stevenson beckons – ‘Miss Edwards’ – and hands me an in-house phone. ‘How are you, Mr Vaughan?’ she says, with a warmth she reserves for only a few.
It is written that no man can approach the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6 – except through Dora Edwards. Twinset and pearls, precise, private, and rich, they say.
‘Noswaith dda, Dora.’
‘I’m afraid C can’t see you, Mr Vaughan.’
‘Now or ever?’
‘If you don’t mind waiting … I believe there’s a little do for Mr Fulton in the basement. I’ll ring down and let you know when C is free.’
Stevenson has already written a chit for me. Stated purpose of my visit: security check.
The basement bar is crowded. Most evenings it’s haunted by the small self-regarding circle of old-school-ties and scraped-a-university-third officers, who think of themselves as the Service’s ‘robber barons’, and entry is by invitation only. But tonight they’re hosting a farewell bash for ‘Soapy’ Sid Fulton and his chums. He’s standing at the bar with a couple of secretaries.