Acts of Omission
PublisherJohn Murray
Date Published17 July 2014
Price£ 16.99

Acts of Omission

by Terry Stiastny

When a computer disc containing the names of British informants to the former East German Stasi is lost, it sets in train a series of events that has grave political consequences.


Alex Rutherford is a young man who describes himself as a civil servant when, in fact, his job is more concerned with national security. We find him visiting a London underground lost property office in search of a computer he claims to have left on a train. The computer is recovered, but not the disc which it contained. He realises that this will be regarded by his superiors as a serious breach of security.

Mark Lucas is the newly-appointed British Foreign Secretary. Formerly a television journalist, Mark “wanted to know things and wanted other people to have the right to know things.” Eventually he had decided that the only way to achieve these aims was to try to get elected. As well as being in favour of freedom of information, he is also – somewhat naively – an advocate of greater transparency and trust between governments. Thus, when a request is received from the German government that Stasi files held by the British should be returned, his natural inclination is to do so. The official diplomatic service view, however, is that they will not be.

Anna Travers was at Oxford at the same time as Alex and the pair had become lovers until Anna put an end to the affair by simply walking out. Consumed by a desire to succeed and make a name for herself in the world of newspapers, she felt that this could best be accomplished by distancing herself from her old acquaintances in order to concentrate on her career. This was something for which Alex had been unable to forgive her, in spite of her efforts to make amends.

When the missing disc mysteriously arrives in the offices of Anna’s newspaper and she is given the task of investigating its contents she regards this as the chance she has been waiting for and is determined to prove herself. In particular, she wants to show that she is at least as capable as more experienced colleagues who doubt her ability to get the job done. This single-mindedness turns out to have serious consequences for both her former lover and the Foreign Secretary.

Terry Stiastny, herself a former journalist who worked on BBC television news broadcasts, has a very good eye for life in what is known at the Westminster Village. Whether her description of it is authentic or not, it certainly has the feel of authenticity. If it is, then Westminster must be a thoroughly unpleasant place in which to work.

Apart from Alex, Mark and, to a lesser degree, Anna, there isn’t a sympathetic character in the whole book. Theo Sadler, for all his name-dropping and self-importance, is essentially a dogsbody in Downing Street who is biding his time as he waits for an opportunity to get a seat in parliament. Lord Callander is totally untrustworthy and quite prepared to use and then dismiss anybody he considers beneath him. Even a woman door minder treats Anna with contempt when she tries to get a sight of the Foreign Secretary. Both Alex and Mark discover to their cost how self-obsessed and unforgiving are the powers that be. So all-prevailing is this poisonous atmosphere and so well is it presented that the reader could be forgiven for thinking that nothing of any value could ever be accomplished in such a context.

However, for all the social content, Stiastny never forgets that this is a political thriller and it certainly keeps the reader involved. It helps too that the plot is well conceived and not over-complicated. This, combined with the author’s capacity for creating vividly drawn characters, makes for a very entertaining and thought-provoking book. Whilst the good doesn’t always end happily, at least some of the bad end unhappily – a conclusion that might have satisfied Miss Prism.

Reviewed 27 December 2014 by Arnold Taylor