Old-guard MI5 agent Johnny Worricker has never lost his faith or his enthusiasm for his work, not even in the new era of terror and security, with its messy moral ambiguity. So when his beautiful neighbor Nancy Pierpan suddenly and rather suspiciously entices him into her life, and when his boss and best friend Benedict Baron places a file hot with damning intelligence in his hands, he is unfazed. That is, until Benedict dies suddenly, leaving Johnny alone with evidence proving British complicity in illegal American torture operations.
A quick intimacy develops between Johnny and Nancy, who confides that her brother, a peace protester, had been gunned down in the Gaza Strip. Like Nancy, who seeks the truth about her brother's death, Johnny seeks the truth about the prime minister's collusion with the Americans. As a rogue outfit run out of Downing Street tries to silence him, Johnny must decide whom to trust in an era where "pure intelligence" is obsolete, as the methods for attaining, analyzing, and employing it are at best political, at worst cynical and corrupt.
As Johnny slips out of his identity and prepares for his next move, he must choose between the work he loves and a revelation that would shake up the entire system. But perhaps the jazz-loving, art-collecting survivor of many love affairs and varied political climates is wilier than that; perhaps another solution lies somewhere in between.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Returning home to his apartment one evening, MI5 intelligence analyst Johnny Worricker has an odd encounter with his neighbor, Nancy Pierpan. Under a flimsy pretense, she meets him in the hallway, introduces herself, and invites him in for a drink, where he discovers that she is already entertaining a man, a young Internet entrepreneur, Ralph Wilson. Nancy quickly dispatches Ralph and confides to Johnny that she had invited him back after a date but changed her mind. Later, through his apartment window, Johnny sees Ralph sitting outside on a bench.
Summoned into a meeting with MI5 chief Benedict Baron, his closest old friend, the husband of his ex-wife Emma, Johnny and his colleague Jill Tankard are given a file marked "top secret." They plan to reconvene to discuss it with the Home Secretary, Anthea Catcheside.
Meanwhile, Johnny asks his old friend Rollo, a former MI5 officer and now an unofficial agent, to investigate Nancy. That evening, Johnny sees Ralph Wilson when he attends his daughter Julianne's gallery opening. Back at home, Johnny again finds Nancy outside his door. Nancy reveals that she has been emotionally shut down since her peace-protesting brother Jake was "accidentally" gunned down in the Gaza Strip. She claims that he was shot by the Israelis, although no one will admit culpability.
The next day, Benedict, Johnny, Jill and the home secretary discuss the file, whose secret source gives damning evidence that the Americans have been illegally torturing prisoners on black sites around the world, and that the British government was complicit. Johnny then draws their attention to page eight, where lies the most devastating detail: that "Downing Street already knows about this." Prime Minister Alec Beasley has private illegal intelligence coming from the US which he isn't sharing with MI5 or the home secretary. Had he made use of this intelligence, British lives might have been saved, terror attacks on their own soil prevented. They agree to carefully consider their next move.
But the next move is left solely to Johnny when Benedict dies of a sudden heart attack, leaving his bereft friend in the dark about the identity of his source, and to figure out what to do with the intelligence. Meanwhile, Johnny suspects that the prime minister's cowboy intelligence unit may have an arm within MI5 as well.
Pressure mounts on Johnny to suppress the information as Jill Tankard begins a departmental restructuring which threatens to scapegoat Johnny. In response, Johnny starts making mysterious preparations: He sells one of his valuable paintings to an ex-lover's gallery for cash. He meets Rollo and receives information about Nancy. He allows himself to be brought before the prime minister, who demands that the file be returned. The prime minister threatens him, noting on one hand that without the source, the file is useless to a whistleblower, and on the other that should Johnny go public with the intelligence, his career will be over.
With Nancy's help, Johnny ditches his tail and checks in to a hotel with Nancy. There, he gives her the information that Rollo dug up, the suppressed report confirming the cover-up of her brother's killing. Grateful, she offers to help Johnny with his own pursuit of truth. First, they go to Johnny's ex-wife Emma's home, where Emma gives him access to Benedict's computer and helps him find the identity of the secret source, a liberal American senator. Then Nancy drives him to Ralph's loft, where he breaks in and finds professional surveillance equipment and an incriminating photo: Ralph is Jill Tankard's son.
Meeting with Jill, Johnny strikes a deal: He will return the file and ignore the evidence which would bring down the government, in exchange for publication of the internal Israeli report on the death of Nancy's brother, Jake. That, and no reorganization of the department.
He phones a reporter and authorizes her to broadcast the story about the document Rolle had given her. With that, he says goodbye to Nancy and departs for the airport. As Benedict's funeral service begins, and Nancy watches a news report on the suppression of her brother's death, Johnny stands before the departures board at the airport. He tosses the top secret file in the trash, then moves on.