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Avid readers who recently appreciated the slow burn intensity of The Honourable Woman: take note. Terry Stiastny’s Acts of Omission may at first appear a languorous novel but when the denouement comes it is rewarding; perhaps not satisfying, but very definitely rewarding in its emotional hit.
In the journey to get there Stiastny draws on her background as a former BBC journalist who covered the politics of Westminster and who spent a period based in Berlin. Acts of Omission deftly weaves through the corridors and rooms of the Houses of Parliament and the high-intensity pressure houses of journalists’ newsrooms. The author takes us back to 1998 and is clear that “the gilt is starting to come off a new era” but makes no reference to the specific politics and politicians of the day.
Like The Honourable Woman, Stiastny’s Acts of Omission has secrets at its heart, decisions, actions, failures to action. And with three central characters we see how the unpicking of one stitch unravels their lives and the lives of others close to them.
Alex Rutherford, a young man who has a desk job in the intelligence services does not follow procedure when he joins some old university friends for a night out in the City. He takes his laptop with him, and within it, a disk. The following morning he wakes to a hangover and the realisation that he is no longer in possession of both.
Mark Lucas, an inexperienced MP recently appointed as Foreign Minister is travelling to Berlin. He is aware of a disk containing a list of the names of British informants to the Stasi that is now in the hands of the Government. The Germans want it back and are very likely to raise the issue. Elected and promoted with a squeaky-clean transparency persona, Lucas is warm to the thought of return of the disk but the diplomatic service will not hear of it.
The disk turns up at the newspaper where journalist Anna Travers works. Like Rutherford, Travers is not long out of university; she is hungry and ambitious. Suddenly winning a place on the “disk team” she is one to start unpicking the stitches when the paper’s investigation begins. As the unravelling erupts we see the impact on the lives of many and to Stiastny’s great credit we also feel the human cost.
In Acts of Omission we see the machine in action in the corridors of power and its efficacy is scary.
This thought-provoking novel delivers more than one powerfully emotional sucker punch before the last page, and is a political thriller to stand alongside the best.