When recovering alcoholic and slow horse Catherine Standish goes missing, alarm bells ring at Slough House. Real Tigers by Mick Herron is third in his series about the unfashionable not-quite-up-to-it spies who have been sent to MI5’s version of Coventry. After an intriguing start, I found myself immersed in the tortuous twists and turns of Regents Park v politicians, all playing I-can-betray-you-better-than-you-can-betray-me, when I wanted more Standish. Standish, who has been kidnapped, seems the most unlikely target for attack. But this is Herron’s take on London’s spy-stitching-up-another-spy-for-promotion world where power and accountability don’t go together. Add in slimy Home Secretary Peter Judd and I lost track of the double-crossing. Thankfully Jackson Lamb who, despite disgusting personal habits and an apparent ‘don’t care’ attitude, was an operative during the Cold War and so can still cut through the lies. When Slough House is the focus of a surprise assessment, and it becomes clear that Standish is not coming back, Lamb’s Cold War trickery comes in handy.
After a soggy middle, the pace picks up in the final third. The real tigers of the title are of course the slow horses who find their claws at last. The action scene in the underground data centre, hidden beneath a shabby industrial estate, is snappy though confusing to keep up with who is where and who is shooting at who. Marcus particularly excels, I loved the detail about his hat, while Shirley finds that being a real spy is a bigger hit than drugs and computer nerd Roderick Ho drives a London bus.
Not as addictive a read as the first two books but this is a gritty series with characters who you want to fight back.
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