Always on the lookout for a new thriller series to sink into, I am a late discoverer of the Jackson Lamb books by Mick Herron. Soon to be filmed as ‘Slough House’ and starring Gary Oldman as Lamb, it seemed a good time to start with book one, Slow Horses.
Lamb is the quixotic leader of Slough House, the place where British spies go when they have messed up. They work in a scruffy non-descript building doing boring, repetitive, desk-based jobs and dream of going on ‘ops.’ The reason for each person’s banishment is not spoken by some pact of olvidado but they are all intensely curious about each other. Very much on the outside, they are derided at the Park, the Regent’s Park MI5 headquarters run by ‘dogs’ and ‘achievers.’ The book is littered with spy language, at first confusing, but soon accepted without a second thought.
As always, the first book in a series can be slow to progress, given the need to establish characters, setting and world. And there are a lot of characters, some of whom were cardboard cut-outs with names. The action really gets moving with Hassan, a student who has been kidnapped by three white racists. His beheading is scheduled to take place live and be broadcast on the internet. Members of Slough House are pulled into an op which threatens to go badly wrong, not helped by the intense secrecy and rivalry of everyone involved. Not to mention lots of chips on shoulders. This is not a team and Lamb is not a leader, instead he sits in his top-floor office and is rarely seen.
Slow Horses features a bunch of dysfunctional characters who are unattractive and secretive and the link of the spies to Hassan’s plight is slow to appear. When it does, the story takes off as the team are yanked from their torpidity, told to use their initiative and become the spies they were trained to be. I can’t say I ended the book feeling I had access to Lamb’s character but then he is a spy and so inaccessible, opaque, contradictory. He is also irreverent, funny, disgusting, authority-hating, rude and strangely likeable. Interesting characters I want to see more of include Slough House agent River Cartwright, his grandfather the ‘OB’ who is retired and lives in Tonbridge, and slimy politician PJ who has a wonderful basement kitchen.
Next in the seven-book ‘Slough House’ series is Dead Lions which I will read soon in the expectation that Jackson Lamb’s past will be revealed.
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SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-57J via @SandraDanby