Review: Joe Country by Mick Herron

9781473657458This finely wrought page-turner deepens Jackson Lamb’s legend and illuminates more of his shadowy world, all the while cementing Mick Herron’s place among the top tier of espionage writers.

Most books in Mick Herron’s Slough House series — Joe Country being the sixth instalment — function as standalones, but the latest rewards readers who’ve followed Jackson Lamb’s ‘Slow Horses’ from the very beginning; even characters who’ve featured primarily in Herron’s two novellas play important roles here. The Slow Horses are, of course, MI5 operatives banished from the higher echelons of Regent’s Park to a dilapidated London building for a variety of shortcomings and vices. Think le Carré’s The Circus — only this is the exact opposite; an outpost for those deemed incompetent, forced to complete mundane tasks under the irreverent eye of Jackson Lamb: one of the most enigmatic and abominable protagonists in the genre.

Joe Country follows three primary plot threads, while dipping into the lives of its multifaceted and fully-drawn cast: Louisa Guy is contacted by the widow of Min Harper, Louisa’s former colleague and lover, who wants Louisa to find her missing 17-year-old son, Lucas; new recruit Lech Wicinski, a leper even among outcasts, is determined to uncover why he’s been downgraded into one of Lamb’s minions; and River Cartwright’s estranged father — a rogue CIA agent — has returned, hired by a high-ranking politician to eliminate evidence of a potential scandal.

Anyone familiar with Mick Herron’s masterfully cynical take on the world of espionage will know what to expect from Joe Country. Lucid exposition, polished prose, and a story that builds slowly and crescendos brilliantly with truly shocking deaths, and a denouement that suggests even greater complications on the horizon for Lamb and his joes. Forget James Bond and Jason Bourne; Herron’s characters are flawed and breakable, prone to mistakes in the field and in their personal lives. More often than not, when the bullets start flying, the Slow Horses are more likely to miss than hit.

The spy novel is alive and well and Mick Herron is among those breathing new life into the genre. Once again he has proven himself to be a world-class practitioner of the espionage thriller, and the Slough House novels might just be the best series being published right now.

ISBN: 9781473657458
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 20-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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: 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