Publication: 1st February 2018 from John Murray Books
London Rules might not be written down, but everyone knows rule one.
Cover your arse.
Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is learning this the hard way. Tasked with protecting a beleaguered prime minister, he’s facing attack from all directions himself: from the showboating MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, and now has his sights set on Number Ten; from the showboat’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s crucifying Whelan in print; and especially from his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, who’s alert for Claude’s every stumble.
Meanwhile, the country’s being rocked by an apparently random string of terror attacks, and someone’s trying to kill Roddy Ho.
Over at Slough House, the crew are struggling with personal problems: repressed grief, various addictions, retail paralysis, and the nagging suspicion that their newest colleague is a psychopath. But collectively, they’re about to rediscover their greatest strength – that of making a bad situation much, much worse.
It’s a good job Jackson Lamb knows the rules. Because those things aren’t going to break themselves.
It was a recommendation from Sarah Hilary that set me on the road to reading Mick Herron, and goodness, am I grateful. London Rules is such a class act, I now have to go back and read others in this Slough House series.
I tend to be more of a crime than a spy reader, but Mick Herron has opened my eyes to the beauty of the contemporary spy series. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone, but I really do want to know more about the oddballs who make up the Slough House crew; the Slow Horses are a group of disreputable, dysfunctional misfits who have committed sins as spies that have caused them to be relegated to desk jobs in Slough House, presided over by the inimitable Jackson Lamb. Not, you understand, that they ever stay at their desks…
Herron’s writing is sublime. Rich, descriptive, dry and full of sarcastic wit, it has some extremely funny, laugh out loud moments, whilst simultaneously managing to make wry observations about the absurdities of MI5 and it’s interaction with politicians.
His plotting is astute, tight and intricate and some of the characters in this book are, well let’s just say, they may ring some recognition bells – especially the politicians and the media columnist.
In London Rules, there’s a Brexit background, lots of political machinations and an emphasis on the relationship between MI5’s Regent House, where all the real spies are housed and Slough House, where Jackson Lamb survives to rule his roost because of his skill and ingenuity in being able to predict, outthink and outmanoeuvre his masters.
Lamb is an outrageous character. Slovenly, scabrous, contemptuous, obnoxious – these are all his best character traits yet you can’t help but like him.
London is on high alert. The public are unforgiving and seriously divided over Brexit. Politicians too are equally divided, jockeying for position and falling over themselves to implicate each other in the mire of whatever is the unpopular political issue of the day.
Into the midst of this, a group of armed men set off a hail of bullets in the small village of Abbotsfield, Derbyshire, killing several people. IS have claimed responsibility, but the motive for this attack is unclear.
Meanwhile, the computer genius at Slough House – Roddy Ho, is the subject of an attempted hit-and-run, foiled by his colleague Shirley. While Lamb could understand pretty much anyone wanting to kill Roddy, he can’t fathom what the reason for this attack might be. Roddy has a high opinion of himself, seeing himself as a combination of James Bond and Q. This is just as well, because no-one else of knows him thinks of him in anything like such a kind light. The Rodster, as he likes to call himself, is in reality an IT geek with an absence of personality and no social skills at all.
The Slow Horses become entangled in tracking down the terrorists in an effort to find out who was gunning for Ho and as they wreak their own brand of havoc throughout London and beyond, one or two of them find themselves for once in the right place at the right time.
What makes this book work is the way that the narrative is focused on the Slough House characters; how they are thinking and feeling, and how that impacts on their actions – though from Jackson Lamb you get none of that, which makes him altogether a more complex character.
From accidental killings to terrorist outrages, the Slow horses view everything through their own prism as they make it through another day at the coalface.
A terrific and addictive read with sparkling wit, satisfying dialogue and a great plot. Very highly recommended.
About Mick Herron
Mick Herron is a novelist and short story writer whose books include the Sarah Tucker/Zoë Boehm series and the standalone novel RECONSTRUCTION. His work has been shortlisted for the Macavity, Barry and Shamus awards, and his novella DOLPHIN JUNCTION was joint winner of the 2009 Ellery Queen Readers Award. His second standalone, NOBODY WALKS, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2015, and was one of Booklist Magazine’s Best 101 Crime Novels of the Decade.
He is the author of the acclaimed Jackson Lamb series, the first of which, the Steel Dagger-nominated SLOW HORSES, was hailed by the Daily Telegraph as one of the “the twenty greatest spy novels of all time”. The second in the series, DEAD LIONS, won the 2013 CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of the best 25 crime novels of the past five years. The third, REAL TIGERS, was shortlisted for both the Gold and Steel Daggers, for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, and for the 2017 Macavity Award. It won the Last Laugh Award at Crimefest 2017, for the best humorous crime novel of 2016.
SPOOK STREET, the fourth Jackson Lamb novel – praised by Ian Rankin for its “sublime dialogue and frictionless plotting” – won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2017.
Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and now lives in Oxford. He writes full time.