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review 2018-01-14 20:36
"Dead Lions - Slough House #2" by Mick Herron
Dead Lions - Mick Herron

"Dead Lions" is the second book in this series about members of MI5  judged to be subpar and cast into the outer darkness of Slough House to rot or resign. I enjoyed the first book in the series, "Slow Horses" but I found "Dead Lions" to be much more accomplished and certain of itself.


The tone of the writing modulates from whimsical through to darkly comic with a default setting of quiet desperation.


The plot is like a Swiss wristwatch: beautifully crafted to a complex but elegant design and assembled in dense layers that work together to drive you forward second by second.


The story starts with the assassination of the memorably named Dickie Bow, an ex-MI5 irregular, a veteran of Berlin during the cold war, by a man he believes to have been a Russian spy. His murder goes undetected until Jackson Lamb, mercurial head of Slough House, who served with Dickie Bow in Berlin, takes a closer look. The foul play he discovers turns out to be only one of several layers of the plot, that are nested inside one another like Matryoshka dolls. The discovery of each doll changed what I thought was going on so fast that I gave up trying to find the lady and just enjoyed the skill of the sleight of hand.


"Dead Lions" does a splendid job evoking the Cold War world-of-mirrors mindset and setting it in a thoroughly convincing frame of modern British Counter-Intelligence.

Slough House is populated with characters that are depressingly real yet capable of being believably surprising. The plot amplifies the characters but is not driven by them.


The pace is perfect, cutting between parallel plot lines in a way that cranks up the tension while demonstrating how deviously everything is connected to everything else.

I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.


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review 2017-12-28 01:54
London Rules (Slough House) - Mick Herron

In the murky world of the British secret service, there’s a tacit understanding that everyone plays by London Rules. These aren’t the ones neatly compiled in official binders. No, these are the unwritten rules, the real ones.  #1: Cover your arse.


And when it comes to MI5, it doesn’t matter whether you work at Regent’s Park or Slough House. The former is where all the cool kids get to be spies. The latter is home to agents who’ve screwed up royally but can’t legally (or at least, quietly) be killed.


As the book opens, Regent’s is on high alert. A group of armed men drove into the centre of a village in Derbyshire & opened fire. People died, the men vanished & Islamic State claimed responsibility.


News of the attack doesn’t exactly brighten the current mood In the UK. The public is still bitterly divided over Brexit, right wing politicians are pushing their xenophobic agenda & previous attacks have left everyone a tad jumpy. MI5 desperately needs a win but before they literally have a clue, a second attack takes more lives. Regent’s Park #2 Diana Taverner is running on fumes & the last thing she needs is to deal with Slough House’s resident fossil, Jackson Lamb.


Lamb’s not sure if he has a problem or not. It seems someone may have tried to run over Roddy Ho. “The Rodman” (as he thinks of himself) is Slough House’s IT guy. He has 2 gifts. The first is his way with computers. The second is an unshakeable belief he’s a chick magnet with basic social skills. Lamb’s at a loss. Why would a stranger want to kill Ho? He’d understand if it was someone who knew him. Everyone at Slough House has thought of killing The Rodman, pretty much on a daily basis. Colleague Shirley Dander was the one who saved him & she’s already apologized.


From these 2 threads the story goes haring off in multiple directions before doubling back to give you the big picture. There are several new characters added to the returning cast of (ir)regulars & as usual, not everyone will survive. A couple of things make this outing a little different than the others. We get more one-on-one time with each of the Slow Horses as they reflect on personal problems & the remnants of their career. These more serious moments add layers that make us sympathize with their situations. Well…except Ho. But you do have to admire his refusal to let reality dent his delusions. Herron also shines a light on current issues such as government bureaucracy, the rise of overt racism & how easily the media can influence & manipulate public opinion.


I don’t have a great track record when it comes to slowly savouring Herron’s books & once again I failed. It was just too damn good to put down. It’s well paced & full of colourful characters. Many come across as thinly veiled stand-ins for some of the country’s well known figures & you get the sense it’s Herron’s chance to take satirical jabs at some of the ridiculous behaviour of late. The dialogue is clever & frequently laugh out loud funny. Each of the characters has a personal tic that helps bring them to life or in the case of Lamb, a whole herd of them. They alone ensure this is an entertaining read. What elevates the book is smart, intricate plotting that will have you scratching your noggin as you try to figure out how the story lines tie together.


This is book #5 of what has become my favourite series (Heron also has a number of stand-alones). I adore black humour & for my book dollars, you can’t beat smart & funny. So…you may have caught that I’m a fan but this is just me babbling. If you’re interested, pick up “Slow Horses” & see if it suits.


Before I go, I’d like to apply what I learned here & add 2 new rules to the playbook: Never turn your back on a can of paint. Avoid penguins.




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review 2017-09-25 02:17
The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers - Stuart Neville,Mick Herron,Helene Tursten,Peter Lovesey,Cara Black

I love anthologies like this. When your schedule is crazy & you find it difficult to make any progress on a full-meal book, these provide the perfect snack. Here we have 18 stories with an interesting theme. All are set around the Xmas season. But that’s about all they have in common as the authors took the brief & ran with it.


Some are funny, some are gritty. Settings include different centuries & locales such as Seoul, Bangkok, Ireland, America & Cuba. And genres run the gamut from psychological to full on action. There are even a few names you’ll recognize such as Jane Austen & Sherlock Holmes.


Like most collections some are great, most are good & a couple are meh. But what falls into those categories will vary from reader to reader. My favourites were those by Helene Tursten (do NOT mess with a Swedish granny), Teresa Dovalpage (great characters, set in Cuba), Tod Goldberg (poignant tale of a lonely sheriff’s final days on the job) & Martin Limón (American military police in 1970’s Korea). Two of these authors I’d never read before & therein lies the gift. It’s great chance to try out new (to you) authors & editor Peter Lovesey has included each writer’s back list at the end so you can easily select something meatier by whoever catches your fancy.


It’s a great book to take on your daily commute or leave on the bedside table. Just keep it handy for those times when you have a few minutes to escape to another time or country.



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review 2017-08-06 21:31
"Slow Horses - Slough House #1" by Mick Herron - Le Carré rebooted in the modern day
Slow Horses - Mick Herron

"Slow Horses" is a (very) British spy thriller, set in contemporary London, in the post 7/7 bombing world of domestic anti-terrorism.


The slow horses of the title are security service people who have messed up and have been cut out of the herd of thoroughbreds with whom they've demonstrated they can't keep up. Their punishment is being sent to work at Slough House where they are given pointless routine work that is meant to demoralize them to the point where they will resign and save the Service the trouble of firing them.


This is a depressingly plausible situation. The Civil Service call this, nugatory work, i.e. work that is known to have no value.


Slough House is run as a fiefdom by Jackson Lamb, a mercurial despot with a reputation as a dangerous field agent. Discovering why he is there and what he wants is one of the mysteries of the book. His staff are a mixed bunch but it soon becomes clear that some of them are not what they seem. In the world that these folks inhabit, little is what it seems.


The plot revolves around the abduction and threatened execution of a boy of Pakistani descent by a group of right wing nationalist extremists. This takes us into BNP, EDL deluded English Nazis.


"Slow Horses" was published in 2010 and now seems rather horribly prescient. At one point, a right wing journalist (imagine that) is talking to a Tory cabinet minister who presents himself as a bumbling fool but is actually a driving force for English nationalism (not hard to imagine who that character could be based on, The journalist says:


‘Because we both know the tide’s turning. The decent people in this country are sick to death of being held hostage by mad liberals in Brussels, and the sooner we take control over our own future, our own borders …’

Given that this predates the Brexit debacle by half a decade, that's a little scary.


The plot is cunning without ever becoming Byzantine. The storytelling keeps the tension cranked up and throws in lots of surprises. The characters and how they interact with each other are credible and compelling. This is Le Carré for the modern day, with a faster pace and a new set of issues.


"Slow Horses" is a good thriller made exceptional by the plausibility of the people and the situations. It seems like an insider's view. As one of the retired Service guys says of Le Carré in this book, "Just because it's made up doesn't mean it's not true.

"Slow Horses" is the first in a series of Slough House novels. All of them are now on my "must read" list.

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review 2017-04-25 18:26
Spook Street / Mick Herron
Spook Street (Slough House) - Mick Herron

A shakeup at MI5 and a terrorist attack on British soil set in motion clandestine machinery known to few modern spies. David Cartwright isn't a modern spy, however; he's legend and a bonafide Cold War hero. He's also in his dotage and losing his mind to Alzheimer's. His stories of -stotes- hiding in the bushes, following his every move have been dismissed by friends and family for years. Cartwright may be losing track of reality but he's certain about one thing: Old spooks don't go quietly and neither do the secrets they keep.


Mick Herron has really hit his stride with the fourth book in the Slough House series! River Cartwright is an inspired creation, grandson of an admired British “spook” (that’s a spy to you & me) who has been sabotaged during a training exercise by a frenemy and ended up in Slough House, the place where failed spies go to be punished for their sins.

There’s been a bombing of a shopping centre, plus River is starting to worry about his grandfather’s mental state. He has the same concerns that everyone has about relatives with dementia, plus the added concern that his grandfather may indeed shoot someone who comes to the door, believing that they are out to get him. That spy-paranoia doesn’t just go away just because he is losing his grip on every-day life.

As per usual, Herron provides a complex plot, with plenty of twists & turns to keep the reader on their toes. There are interesting revelations from the past, political machinations of the most vicious & devious kinds, and Herron isn’t afraid to sacrifice a person or two along the way. The ending is also skillfull—I was given enough resolution to satisfy, while still left with enough loose threads that I am happily anticipating the next installment. Well played!

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