Review: London Rules by Mick Herron

9781473657380.jpgLondon Rules — the fifth book in the Jackson Lamb series — epitomises precisely why Mick Herron’s espionage novels are the new hallmarks of the genre. It is a rousing, provocative — and genuinely funny, at times — political thriller with a  labyrinthine plot that, despite its villains remaining little more than sketches, excels thanks to its large, diverse cast of ‘Slow Horses’ whose personal travails and tribulations add depth to protagonists who are often little more than stock cardboard cutouts.

New readers are welcomed into the world of Slough House, where failed (dubbed incompetent) MI-5 agents are deposited to waste their days, twiddling their thumbs, doing mind-numbing busy work, but it’s readers who’ve been with these characters since Slow Horses who’ll get maximum enjoyment from London Rules. By now, the Slow Horses are entangled in a thick continuity soup, and each book in the series serves as an episodic interlude into their lives, the spotlight shared between various characters. This time around the balance is fairly even, which makes the story’s unravelling all the more nerve-wracking, because Herron has displayed a willingness to kill off characters before, and given the vastness of the cast he’s working with, one can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before further reductions are made.

London Rules deals with various plot threads that eventually, quite brilliantly, tie together. While Slow Horse Roddy Ho is targeted for assassination, a string of bizarre, seemingly random terrorist attacks rock the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is struggling to protect the hapless prime minister from the MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, who has his sights set on Number Ten; not to mention the MP’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s obliterating Whelan in print; then there’s the soon-to-be mayor of London the Prime Minister has allied himsel with, who has a dark, potentially devastating secret. Poor Whelan, dealing with all of this, while his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, watches on, waiting for him to stumble. And while these machinations are certainly intriguing and propulsive, it’s how River Cartwright, Catherine Standish, JK Coe and all the others are managing the stresses of their personal lives, and the consequences of their previous missions, that prove the ultimate page-turning factor.

Mick Herron’s novels sit comfortably somewhere between le Carré and Bond: meticulously plotted, deliberately paced, fun, and not overly deep. London Rules is a terrific yarn filled with tension and surprises right to the end. Every instalment in this series is a pleasure to read.

ISBN: 9781473657380
Format: Paperback (235mm x 162mm x 26mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 8-Feb-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Nobody Walks by Mick Herron

nobody-walksNobody Walks is a revenge story.

We follow Tom Bettany, a former MI-5 undercover spook, who takes it upon himself to investigate the suspicious death of his son, Liam. They weren’t close, this father and son; following the death of his wife — Liam’s mother — Tom eloped from the responsibilities of fatherhood, ditched his son for a nomadic life, and in the intervening years took on menial jobs to pay the rent and blunt the trauma of a lifetime of high-risk undercover work and the unravelling of his personal life.

Then he gets the phone call alerting him to the fact his son is dead.

So it’s back to London, back to a world of spooks and villains, and one man determined to expose the true forces behind his son’s death. All the while, it appears someone is pulling Bettany’s strings. Someone brought him back to London, out from the cold, for a reason.

Although Nobody Walks isn’t a Slow Horses novel — a trio of books (soon to be a quartet) I’ve absolutely adored, which include Slow HorsesDead Lions and Real Tigers — I was delighted to discover it takes place in the same universe, with familiar characters making an appearance, either at the forefront of the plot, or just in the background. And while it exists in the same continuity, Nobody Walks is a very different kind of thriller: more Richard Stark than John Le Carre. It’s stripped down and raw; a satisfying, immersive thriller, bold and brutal in its simplicity.

ISBN: 9781616956196
Format: Paperback (190mm x 126mm x 23mm)
Pages: 328
Imprint: Soho Press Inc
Publisher: Soho Press Inc
Publish Date: 3-Dec-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Dead Lions by Mick Herron

dead-lionsSlough House — a disregarded echelon of MI5 — is comprised of disgraced and incompetent agents, who are assigned an endless supply of demeaning and feckless tasks in an effort to wear them down until the pull the pin on their careers. Ruled by the legendary Jackson Lamb — possibly the most abominable protagonist to have ever been spotlighted in espionage fiction —  the inhabitants of Slough House are skilled operators, whose vices and mistakes have demolished whatever usefulness they might have to the service. But when a former agent, Dickie Bow, is found dead on a London bus, Lamb and his subordinates take it upon themselves to investigate. Bow’s final text message — “cicadas” — has ominous repercussions:  it signifies the awakening of a sleeper cell of foreign agents, which dates back to the Cold War. Suddenly, Lamb’s Slow Horses are in a race against against time to determine their enemy’s target, and stop it from taking place.

Slow Horses was a remarkable spy novel, and this second in the series, Dead Lions, is a fine sequel. With the pieces already set up on the board, Mick Herron wastes no time in thrusting readers into a whirlwind, multi-stranded plot, which is orchestrated with Bach-like precision. Herron’s stories have the same complexity as Le Carre’s, but are written with the economy of Richard Stark, and this combination makes for an incredibly page-turning read. There is a large cast of characters involved, but each are fleshed out, and boast distinctive personalities; a rarity in this genre, when one could easily swap out James Bond for Jason Bourne, or Sean Dillon, or Jack Ryan, and not really notice any discernible difference.

Mick Herron has breathed new lie into the landscape of the espionage novel. I haven’t breezed through a series of books this quickly in a long, long time. As I write this, I’ve started the third novel, Real Tigers, and may well dig into Herron’s other novels while I wait for Spook Street in February.

ISBN: 9781473641112
Format: Paperback
(197mm x 129mm x 23mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: John Murray General Publishing Division
Publish Date: 8-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Slow Horses by Mick Herron

 

9781473641105 (1).jpgBanished to Jackson Lamb’s personal fiefdom, Slough House, from the higher echelons at Regent’s Park for a variety of shortcomings and vices, the ‘Slow Horses’ are a unit of MI5 misfits, desperate to atone for their past mistakes in order to escape purgatory, not entirely convinced Slough House isn’t an inescapable hell; that whatever they accomplish won’t be enough to circumvent their malpractice.

In erudition, action and temperament, Slow Horses proves Mick Herron is among the top tier of spy thriller writers. I ploughed through this first novel in the series and immediately started the second so I’ll be up to date when the fourth book, Spook Street, is published in February. In Slow Horses a boy is kidnapped and held hostage, and his beheading is scheduled for live broadcast on the internet. Whatever their personal and professional failings, Jackson Lamb’s team — if you can really call them that — can’t just sit on their hands when it’s within their capabilities — well, maybe — to do something. So they break from their remit and get involved. But this isn’t a novel about the redemption of spooks, nor a straightforward action thriller, in which the good guys serve deserved justice to the bad guys, and everyone goes home happy. This is a novel full of greys; it exposes the intricacies of inter-agency turf wars and puts human faces and human costs on those who make it their life’s work to shield us from those who seek to do us harm.

Despite the economy of Mick Herron’s work, the large cast is fleshed out, and although few are likeable — Jackson Lamb, in particular, is a bastard — they’re characters readers will root for, despite their flaws and foibles. Most impressive is Herron’s graceful prose, which reminded me of Daniel Silva’s long-running Gabriel Allon series. There’s an elegance to Herron’s storytelling, rarely seen among his contemporaries, many of whom rush to the explosion without lighting a fuse.

Slow Horses is packed full of evocative detail, movie-tense action sequences, and a credible plot. I’m so glad the book was shoved into my hands. As I write this, I am halfway through Dead Lions and enjoying it just as much as Slow Horses.

ISBN: 9781473641105
Format: Paperback  (198mm x 131mm x 23mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: John Murray General Publishing Division
Publish Date: 11-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom