Thriller Roundup: Mick Herron’s Slough House and Gregg Hurwitz’s Prodigal Son

And so here we are with “Slough House,” the seventh instalment in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series, and “Prodigal Son,” the sixth Orphan X novel by Gregg Hurwitz: two thrillers seismically disparate in approach, both dragging long coattails of continuity, both extraordinarily polished page-turners. 

“Prodigal Son” is a kinetic, breathless, action-packed masterpiece that sees Evan Smoak — former government operative Orphan X turned former vigilante harbinger of justice, “the Nowhere Man” — snapped from retirement by a phone call from a woman claiming to be his mother. She wants Evan to protect a former member of the Pride House Group Home he was plucked from as a teenager to be moulded into an assassin. Andrew Duran has landed himself a James Bond-level adversary, who wields tiny, murderous drones as his weapons of choice; not to mention a sadistic brother-sister team of killers.

Hurwitz is the king of action-lit, operating in the same realm as Ludlum, Greaney, Carr and Flynn; a veneer of authenticity regarding the technology described, but the action itself amplified to “Mission: Impossible” levels. Here, Smoak can survive a head on vehicular collision with little more than whiplash; in Mick Herron’s universe, such an ordeal is likely to kill the character involved, or if they’re lucky enough to survive, have them so bent and broken we’ll be reading about it further in future series entries. Herron’s the closest contemporary approximation to John le Carre we have, albeit his books are drenched in wry humour, the politicking and intelligence gathering played for equal parts drama and comedy.

In “Slough House,” Jackson Lamb’s Slow Horses — MI5 operatives banished from the higher echelons of Regent’s Park for a variety of shortcomings and vices —have had their personal information purged from government computers, while veteran members are being stalked by Russian agents. It’s all connected to bureaucratic manoeuvring by Diana Taverner, the First Chair at Regent’s Park; although in this instance she may’ve bitten off more than she can chew.

Hurwitz is a master of orchestrating mayhem, the sort involving gut battles, harrowing high-speed escapes and lethal hand-to-hand fights. Herron builds his plots slowly, steadily, working them to conclusions with the occasional crack of violence, but more often resolved at a bench overlooking the Thames, or a quiet restaurant. They’re very different kinds of thrillers, but of the same consummate class.

Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz
Published: 2 February 2021
ISBN: 9780241402863
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 464

Slough House by Mick Herron
Published: 4 February 2021
ISBN: 9781529378658
Imprint: John Murray Publishers Ltd
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 320

RRP: $32.99

Review: The Catch by Mick Herron

 9781529331677The Catch: A Slough House Novella | Mick Herron | John Murray | 14 January 2020 | RRP $22.99 | 9781529331677

As I (impatiently) await the release of a new Slough House novel, this snack-size interlude serves as a wonderful reminder of just how brilliant Mick Herron’s series of espionage novels are; not reliant on Hollywood pyrotechnics or gunplay, but compelling because of the interplay between distinguishable characters, and their clever plotting. The Catch is one of those rare novellas that deepens and enriches the lore of its creators world.

Intelligence Service operative John Bachelor — although it’s a stretch to call him ‘operational’ — is living rent-free in a dead spook’s apartment. Poor John, a ‘Milkman’ for the service, is down on his luck; and the arrival of two Regent’s Park heavies early one morning hardly signals a change in his fortune. They’re looking for a man named Benny Manors, who Bachelor was being paid for by the service to monitor, but whose lackadaisical tendencies have allowed Manors to vanish. If Bachelor doesn’t find Manors — and quickly — he faces not only the end of his living arrangements, but quite possibly the end of his life. Little does he realise he is merely a pawn in a game being played by powerful figures attempting to control a scandal involving a member of the Royal family and a paedophile.

Another well-crafted entry in Herron’s fiendishly good Slough House series. Don’t let its slight page count fool you; The Catch provides twists aplenty.

View at Medium.com

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: 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