Archive for January 2019

Book review – London Rules

Those familiar with the spy genre will be familiar with the term ‘Moscow rules‘.  The first of the London rules is “cover your arse”.  If it weren’t obvious so far, we’re back in Jackson Lamb territory with London Rules, the fifth book in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.  And those familiar with this blog will know that this series of books follows the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House, a bunch of MI5 misfits who sit in administrative purgatory under the watchful eye of Cold War veteran and ‘joe’ Jackson Lamb.  Lamb’s a wonderful creation, as are his slow horses, and it’s always a joy to start reading another installment, hoping that it will be as good or even better than the last.

London Rules was published in 2018 and you can tell.  The book features an embattled Prime Minister; a Boris Johnson cum Nigel Farage figure who’s snapping at the heels of the PM; and Brexit. But there’s no need to worry, the book doesn’t wade through that particular quagmire.  The country finds itself under seemingly random acts of terror, and Slough House’s resident IT guru and self-appointed God’s gift to women, Roddy Ho, finds himself in the cross hairs.  Bored to death and yearning for something remotely worthwhile doing, the slow horses come to the conclusion that the random acts of terror are nothing as such, and that the attempted assassination of Roddy Ho is somehow linked.  As per usual our bunch of ne’er-do-wells find themselves at the centre of things…

Herron does it again with London Rules. In fact I think it’s the best Jackson Lamb book yet.  Herron has the ability to keep numerous characters in play at the same time and to develop those characters at the same time.  In variety terms this would be one of those performers spinning numerous plates at the same time, only painting them as well.  I guess Herron has the luxury that his characters can develop from book to book but still.  We get to spend more time with MI5’s newly appointed ‘First Desk’, Claude Whelan, than we did with his predecessor, which also means we get to spend time with the formidable, arch plotter ‘Lady’ Di Taverner, all of which is welcome as is the return of Emma Flyte, as the Service’s head ‘dog’.  The time spent with the highest echelons of Regent’s Park (our HQ for MI5) means, I think, that we’re spending a little less time with our Slow Horses but this is fine.  I might have disagreed a few books back but because we’ve got history with each of them it’s like that quote, “good friends are like stars; you don’t always see them, but you know they are there.”

At 352 pages, London Rules isn’t short but it’s a real page turner – I read it in just over a weekend.  I’d still like to see a Jackson Lamb book set in the past when Lamb was active in the field, or perhaps a book where Lamb’s past comes back to haunt him.  But while Herron’s knocking the ball out the park, I don’t mind much at all.  Highly recommended.

Songs from the Vault

Happy New Year! It seems ages since the last edition of SFTV despite it being just over a month ago. Throughout 2019 I plan on bringing to your attention tunes that hopefully you don’t know but will love; and if you do know them, I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I continue to do so.

This edition doesn’t follow any particular theme, just a handful of random tunes. So without further a do, first up is Julian Cope with Upwards at 45 Degrees off of his 1992 album Jehovahkill. The album, which explored Cope’s interest in paganism, was highly acclaimed by critics. A week after the release of Jejovahkill, however, Cope was dropped from Island Records, with the label commenting that critical acclaim wasn’t the same as commercial success. The track features wonderful vocals and lyrics from Cope and morphs from a folk song into a psychedelic rock one…

Our next track is quite an obscure one. Martin Gore is of course well known as a founding and long-standing member of Depeche Mode. Back in 1989 Gore released his Counterfeit EP, which included six cover versions, including In a Manner of Speaking by Tuxedomoon. The original is a cool tune and, like all good covers, Gore puts his own slant on it. It’s strange how much he sounds like Dave Gahan on the track…

One of my favourite albums of 2017 was Daylight Ghosts by Craig Taborn. Taborn is one of my favourite pianists / keyboard players, who like a number of his contemporaries defies classification, but he invariably produces music which is contemporary and improvisatory in nature. You can be sure that whatever he’s involved in will be worth checking out. Phantom Ratio is my favourite track off the album, a concoction of jazz, contemporary music, electronica, rock, and minimalism. This is the kind of tune that will drive some people mad, with a riff that repeats throughout the entirety of the tune. For me, that’s where the fun kicks-in as sounds are introduced which juxtapose against a static, constant motif. Give it a listen and make up your own mind…

I’m going to stick with the concept of repetitive motifs. John Cage was one of the 20th century’s musical pioneers, influencing not just classical composers but those in the rock sphere, such as Lou Reed. DJ Shadow’s Triplicate (the subject of a previous post) samples Cage’s 1948 composition In a Landscape, which is our tune for SFTV. In a Landscape is a meditative piece composed in 1948, to accompany a choreography by dancer Louise Lippold (Cage had an interest in modern dance throughout his life). The piece is clearly influenced by Erik Satie and was composed for piano or harp. The version below, from 1994, features Stephen Drury on piano…

Our last tune of this edition of SFTV seems like a fitting (musically, rather than any political comment!) way to wrap this edition up. The End of the World was originally a hit for Skeeter Davis back in 1962. It’s been covered by the likes of Julie London, and the Carpenters. Sharon Van Etten’s version, released in 2017 as part of Resistance Radio – an album inspired by TV’s The Man in the High Castle (based on the novel by Philip K. Dick) – is superior in my view to all of them…

I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of SFTV. Keep tuning in for more of the same!