‘Cover your arse’ is the first rule to live by for Jackson Lamb’s team of spies in London Rules, fifth in the Slough House thriller series by Mick Herron. Life in Britain is going to the dogs. A troublesome Brexiteer MP is being loud-mouthed again. Number two spy at Regent’s Park HQ, ‘Lady Di’ Taverner, has a new boss. And there’s an unprovoked gun attack by men in jeeps on a small village in Derbyshire. Lamb’s team of reject spies is adjusting to life after a recent attack on the premises. Shirley Dander is counting down the days to her last anger management session while trying to resist the packet of cocaine in her pocket; River Cartwright visits his grandfather, the ‘OB,’ now suffering from dementia; and Louisa Guy distracts herself from grief with a shoe obsession. Contrary to some descriptions, this is not a series about one man but about a team of colleagues. Each is flawed, and compelling.
When IT guy Roddy Ho is attacked in the street in broad daylight, the action can’t be ignored. The Slough House desk-bound spies leap into action. Their long-ago training lends them a basic knowledge of tradecraft which is useful, but their ignorance and ability to blindly charge into a dangerous situation can be a liability as well as an advantage. When a pipe bomb is lobbed into the penguin enclosure at a zoo and a bomb is found on a train, the team begin to wonder if JK Coe’s wild theory – that someone is implementing a theoretical five-stage terrorist plan to destabilise a state – could be happening in Britain. If so, how did the terrorists get the top secret plan? Was someone duped into leaking secrets or is there a mole at Regent’s Park?
Meanwhile the grind of daily politics continues. As the publicity-seeking MP prepares to announce he is going to cross the floor of the House of Commons, he is warned by new Lady Di’s new boss Claude Whelan that a deeply-hidden secret is about to be made public. In Birmingham, the media-friendly aspiring Muslim mayor, tipped for success and who has the ear of the PM, also has a ‘bagman’ with a criminal past. Could they be a threat, or in danger? And what has any of this to do with JK Coe’s theory?
In each book, the team of reject spies changes slightly though some old favourites, such as River Cartwright, and of course the chief, Jackson Lamb, continue. This time there are a number of curious things going on. No one can understand why Kim, beautiful girlfriend of the dysfunctional Ho, is actually with him. What secret is sleazy politician Dennis Gimball hiding from his wife, Dodie, who thinks she knows every dirty little thing he has done? And why is Ho taken to Regent’s Park and locked in an isolation room with a tap and a metal drain?
The plot twists inside out and round about and through it all cuts the acerbic cynicism of Lamb. If JK Coe’s theory is correct will Lamb believe his silent, intense, anti-social spy and act? If Lamb disobeys orders again, could Slough House be shut down?
The dark humour of this series never fails to make me laugh out loud while the scenarios are one frightening step away from feeling possible. I do long, though, to hear Lamb’s inner thoughts. We are shown the mind of other Slow Horses but not Jackson Lamb. What really makes him tick?
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