Source: Review copy
Publication: US – 8 May 2022 from SoHo Crime and Recorded Books
UK publication: 12 May from Baskerville
Narrator: Gerald Doyle
Listening Time: 10 hours and 51 glorious minutes
My thanks to Soho Crime and Recorded Books for an advance copy for review
Intelligence has a new home.
A governmental think-tank, whose remit is to curb the independence of the intelligence service, has lost one of its key members, and Claude Whelan – one-time head of MI5’s Regent’s Park – is tasked with tracking her down. But the trail leads straight back to the Park itself, with Diana Taverner as chief suspect. Has Diana overplayed her hand at last? What’s her counterpart, Moscow’s First Desk, doing in London? And does Jackson Lamb know more than he’s telling?
Over at Slough House, with Shirley Dander in rehab, Roddy Ho in dress rehearsal, and new recruit Ashley Khan turning up the heat, the slow horses are doing what they do best, and adding a little bit of chaos to an already unstable situation….
There are bad actors everywhere, and they usually get their comeuppance before the credits roll. But politics is a dirty business, and in a world where lying, cheating and backstabbing are the norm, sometimes the good guys can find themselves outgunned.
Mick Herron keeps getting better and better. Part of the reason for this is that, where once his satire was very funny, now it seems that life is imitating art and he is drawing on current events without having to reach very far to find the satire.
There are many fabulous laugh-out-loud moments in this brilliantly written, sharp and incisive book that is far too close to home for comfort. Herron has his finger firmly on the pulse as this post-Brexit novel takes in Covid and the omni-shambles of a broken Britain.
As ever, there are dangers to the country from every sphere, notably this time, the Russians – and how prescient is that – but the key battle ground is of course between Jackson Lamb’s slow horses of Slough House and Diana Taverner, holder of the MI5 First Desk role at Regent’s Park.
Herron’s cast of colourful characters is sublime. The Prime Minister’s super forecaster, Sophie de Greer, has gone missing. Her role is to predict public reaction to potential Government policies. De Greer was also a member of an internal think tank looking to curb the power of M15. Who benefits is the question?
Sparrow, the PM’s right hand man (a recognisable hate figure to anyone who follows UK politics), has tasked Diana Taverner’s predecessor, Claude Whelan, to find out what has happened to her. Sparrow is no fan of M15 whose operations don’t fall under his control and he needs to be sure that she hasn’t been ‘waterproofed’ by Taverner as a way of ensuring that there’s no meddling with the Service.
Then there’s the fact that the Head of the Russian First Desk has slipped unnoticed into London…how are all these things connected?
Because no-one cares what Slough House and the slow horses are up to, they have the best chance of rooting around all this intrigue without coming under anyone’s scrutiny. In a masterpiece of brilliant plotting, superb one-liners and stunning character studies, we are one again in the madcap world of Roddy Ho, Lech Wicinski, Catherine Standish, Louisa Guy and Shirley Dander and the irascible, farting, foul mouthed Jackson Lamb.
They are joined by a new slow horse, the young and puzzled Ashley Khan. She can’t work out quite why she is at Slough House, but the truth is that on her very first mission Ashley Khan messed up a covert surveillance operation and Lamb ‘accidently on purpose’ broke her arm. She’s about to make her second mistake…
Roddy Ho – the Rodster – is unmissable in this instalment as he auditions would be Princess Leahs. Shirley’s in rehab and everyone is missing River Cartwright.
Told from multiple perspectives and using flashbacks, this tightly and expertly plotted book is crammed full of intrigue, dark moments and thrilling action.
It’s hard to do justice to such a clever, witty and entertaining novel which undoubtedly is better if you have read the preceding books in the series. And you really should, because this is one of the outstanding series of its generation.
Lamb’s slow horses may be misfits who have messed up, but they are still spies and they have skills that, because no-one cares about them, they can deploy under much less scrutiny than anyone in Regent’s Park would ever manage. Jackson Lamb knows just how to operate under the radar and as ever, he’s got a handle on the situation long before anyone knows what’s going on.
Gerard Doyle’s mellifluous narration is well modulated grease to the wheel of this super charged turbo car of a novel.
Verdict: This is Mick Herron on superb, scintillating and excoriating form. On point, topical and so very, very witty, Herron has his finger firmly on the pulse of British politics and delivers his verdict with scathing accuracy. Bad Actors is an unmissable book in an unmissable series.
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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. The Jackson Lamb series is now being shown on Apple TV. Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and lives in Oxford. He writes full time.