The Runner - Stephen Leather

The Runner - Stephen Leather book cover

Sally Page is an MI5 'footie', a junior Secret Service Agent who maintains 'legends': fake identities or footprints used by real spies. Her day consists of maintaining flats and houses where the legends allegedly live, doing online shopping, using payment, loyalty and travel cards and going on social media in their names - anything to give the impression to hostile surveillance that the legends are living, breathing individuals.

One day she goes out for a coffee run from the safe house from which she and her fellow footies operate. When she comes back they have all been murdered and she barely escapes with her own life. She is on the run: but from whom she has no idea. Worse, her bosses at MI5 seem powerless to help her. To live, she will have to use all the lies and false identities she has so carefully created while discovering the truth.

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I had great fun writing The Runner. It takes place over twenty-four hours in London, mainly in Wimbledon, Putney, Fullham and Ealing, places I am very familiar with. The hero is a girl, Sally Page, and in my mind she is black but because if ‘cultural appropriation’ issues, I can’t say that. I’m not joking. I have been told by three editors so far that the days of writers being able to wrote about anything the want with any characters they want are coming to an end. One said flat out that I shouldn’t write a book with a Muslim character as the protagonist as I am not a Muslim. By that logic, of course, I should only be writing about sixty-year-old straight white Christians. It’s nonsense of course, but ‘cultural appropriation’ is now an accusation that terrifies publishers so Sally could be young and female, but not black. She is black, though, I just don’t describe her skin colour. The world, as they say, has gone crazy.

Sally Page moves in Spider’s world, and while he doesn’t feature in the Runner, crucial roles are played by Spider stalwart Major Allan Gannon and Spider’s new boss at MI5, Giles Pritchard, who appears for the first time in Short Range.