During every age tarnished by the spectre of terrorism, there are novels attempting to address the phenomenon. The Secret Agent is one of the best. It is hallmarked by Conrad's black humour, a sort of cosmic wry joke on the bleak futility of anarchism, and the damage it inflicts on innocent victims. Mr Verloc is a strange man, disconnected in fundamental ways from the society in which he lives and, also, his wife. When he hatches a plan to satisfy a mysterious agent at the embassy and blow up the Greenwich Observatory, the repercussions are unexpected, and his attempts to retrospectively justify them are portrayed with macabre brilliance by Conrad.
In addition, the descriptions of late 19th Century London - the black crumbling streets, the rain, the horse and carts, the gas lamps, are brilliantly drawn, especially in the books's early chapters.
Anarchism was a mysterious and hugely damaging European terrorist phenomenon for several decades during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Conrad, growing up in Tsarist Russia, knew this well. His vision is an oblique masterly characterisation of this nihilistic force.