Source: Review copy
Publication: 04 February 2021 from John Murray Press
My thanks to John Murray for an advance copy of this book for review
Kill us? They’ve never needed to kill us,’ said Lamb. ‘I mean, look at us. What would be the point?’
A year after a calamitous blunder by the Russian secret service left a British citizen dead from novichok poisoning, Diana Taverner is on the warpath. What seems a gutless response from the government has pushed the Service’s First Desk into mounting her own counter-offensive – but she’s had to make a deal with the devil first. And given that the devil in question is arch-manipulator Peter Judd, she could be about to lose control of everything she’s fought for.
Meanwhile, still reeling from recent losses, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold. Slough House has been wiped from Service records, and fatal accidents keep happening. No wonder Jackson Lamb’s crew are feeling paranoid. But have they actually been targeted?
With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bidder, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements. The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.
But the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.
What more is there to say about Mick Herron’s sharp, witty, satirical and incisive series? Seriously, if you are not reading this series you are missing out. Slough House is the latest and my goodness its wit does not miss and hit the wall.
Horribly echoing contemporary politics (pre-pandemic) Herron takes all the most implausible elements of our actual political scenario and takes them one tiny step forward until the blurring of fact and fiction is all too real and nothing seems unlikely at all.
Lady Di Taverner, current occupant of the First Desk has not responded well to the Russians planting Novichok in Salisbury and in her whiter hot anger she makes a terrible mistake and seals a deal with the devil, in the form of politician Peter Judd. ‘There were those who’d said of Peter Judd, during his years as a contender for the highest office in the land, that his clowning masked a laser-like focus on his own best interests’. It’s not long before she realises that if you sleep with foxes, you get fleas. And Lady Di is itching all over. Right wing politics and an ambitious rich media owner have combined to be her nemesis as knowledge and power are the only currencies that matter in today’s Britain.
Taverner thinks she has it under control, but one of her tidbits of knowledge that she deliberately lets slip is the wiping out of the Slough House employees from the digital intelligence database.
Roddy Ho, idly hacking into the database as is his wont, notices first that they have all been deleted from the files. That’s not something that the foul-mouthed Jackson Lamb is going to overlook and as he moves his corpulent body around London, rather faster and with more stealth than anyone would expect he begins to discover an astonishing scenario playing out that is the inevitable consequence of everything that has happened to date.
Bringing into play everything from Boris Johnson to Nigel Farage; Brexit to Russian interference in political democracies and even the Gilet Jaunes, Herron’s razor sharp wit dissects the current political absurdities with the sharpest of filleting knives.
The Slow Horses themselves are still in a bit of shock after the events of the last book and the knowledge that they are once more invisible, but for a reason, makes them feel more unsettled than ever.
But the Slow Horses work best when under threat and this strange and unruly bunch are not yet ready to give up. As privatisation creeps into the Intelligence Services by the back door, Lamb is not going to put up with such nonsense any longer than he has to.
With some memorable scenes, Lamb goes dark with the Slow Horses in order to find and face down the forces of darkness, and once again Slough House is under serious threat.
There are many laugh- out-loud moments in this exhilarating and penetratingly sharp prose that just touch perfection: ‘This was the spook trade, and when things went awry on Spook Street, they generally went the full Chris Grayling.’ And the mental picture created when Lamb is in the flat of a gay American person of restricted growth listening to him claim that his Russian partner has been murdered by Putin’s death squad is just beautiful.
Herron makes you care about these misfits; you hurt when they hurt and this book is as heart-breaking and touching as its predecessors. It also feels a bit darker, but I think that’s because it is so close to the bone – so plausible it hurts.
Verdict: An immense, brilliant book in a fantastic and beautifully written series. Herron is a razor sharp writer whose descriptions make you sit up and take notice and his wit is scathing and so well directed. And that prose: rich, dark, intense and utterly, completely, wonderful. Just brilliant. All the stars, each of the books.
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. Mick 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. Both the Jackson Lamb and the Zoë Boehm series are currently being developed for TV. Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and lives in Oxford. He writes full time.