The Threat Level Remains Severe – by Rowena Macdonald, is an astute and acutely observed contemporary drama, which starts spectacularly on a flashy note. House of Commons secretary Grace crosses the lushly carpeted corridor to see the white on green words – ‘The Threat Level Remains Severe’ – flash intermittently from the annunciator televisions, hooked high-up on the wall, busily annunciating the business of the House and the bustling activity in the Chamber.
The estimated terror threat to the House always disturbs Grace, although she is well aware that no severe threat can penetrate the multiple layers of protection, the Palace being guarded round the clock by heavily-armed policemen, ready at a moment’s notice to fight the faceless conspirators plotting against Britain.
Elsewhere, faceless state servants, hunched over computers, decode these electronic plots for Scotland Yard to send to the House of Commons, to feed them at regular intervals into the annunciators, to terrify Grace that an unknown faceless person wants to kill her.
A brand new colleague, newly recruited Brett, on an unusual mission to shake up the dusty corridors of power, brightens up mundane office routines for Grace, when she receives an intriguing email from a mysterious admirer, endued with musical and poetic talents. There is only one problem. Is soulful, enigmatic Reuben really who he claims to be? Is everything really as it appears on the exterior?
Grace, Brett and Reuben, with little in common between them, negotiate the mysteries of metropolitan life, to find their fates inexplicably intertwined in rare moments of illumination.
The novel ends with a cream envelope appearing on Grace’s office desk, her name handwritten on it. Her heart always misses a beat when confronted with private correspondence at the office. Slicing it open, she sees a cream sheet of paper, embossed with a green crest and a note written in a smooth, fluidly flowing handwriting. Grace smiles. Handwriting is far more meaningful than seemingly faceless texts and strange, business-like emails.
Outside, as Big Ben agitatingly strikes the last hour of the working day, Grace, reflective of her office secretary status, feels as warm as freshly photocopied paper, adding a poignant end to an insightful, confident, honest and reassuringly humane tale set in the House of Commons in all its vainglorious reality, exquisitely designed to draw readers in irresistibly.