Archive for Mick Herron

Book review – Joe Country

I reviewed Mick Herron’s London Rules (the fifth book in his Jackson Lamb series) in January. I was quick off the mark in reading the sixth installment, Joe Country, which hit the shelves in June. The Jackson Lamb series has thus far avoided the law of diminishing returns, and I was obviously hoping for this to continue.

As ever there’s at least a couple of plots on the go. Louisa Guy is visited by Min Harper’s widow who wants the (secret) service to find her missing son. Guy, being Harper’s former lover, acquiesces and heads off in pursuit, unaware that said son is being hunted by a gang of ruthless killers. At the same time River Cartwright and other Slough House and Regent’s Park residents are attending the funeral of Cartwright’s grandfather, a service legend. Observing the funeral at a distance is Cartwright’s estranged father (and estranged spook) Frank Harkness, which doesn’t go unnoticed by attendees, not least as Harkness was responsible for the death of one of Lamb’s ‘slow horses’. The slow horses also head off in pursuit of Harkness, unbeknownst that they’re in collision course with Guy. ‘Joe Country’, in Herron’s world, is the place where spies go to die. And this is where our spies end up and not all will make the return visit to the dank, dilapidated environs of Slough House.

The interesting thing about the Lamb series is that it has strength in depth. Herron’s not reliant on any particular character to tell the story, which allows us to get to know each of the slow horses a little better as we go through the series. I found the plot somewhat less believable than on previous outings (despite some of those previous outings being rather far fetched). Nevertheless, that’s a minor quibble as is the fact that ‘Lady’ Di Taverner, now running the show at Regent’s Park, doesn’t feature as much as I would like, meaning a smaller portion of skullduggery. Herron plays things nicely, keeping you on your toes as he holds off bringing our two pursuit teams together. His description of our wintry Joe Country is similarly evinced; you can imagine the whole thing on the big screen, which hopefully isn’t as far fetched as some of the plot lines!

I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed Joe Country as much as I enjoyed London Rules but it’s all relative; having loved LR, Joe comes highly recommended also.

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.

Book review – Spook Street

Spook Street (2017) is the fourth and latest of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.  I’ve read (and reviewed) all four of them this year, so I guess it’s fair to say that I’m a fan.

Spook Street finds us revisiting Slough House, complete with our regular Slow Horses and some new Horses thrown in for good measure.  The story makes reference throughout to events or characters in previous books, so it’s probably a good idea not to start off your Slow Horses journey (or should that be canter?) with this one.

So where does Spook Street start and what is it about?  David Cartwright (a hero of the Secret Service and River Cartwright’s grandfather) thinks he’s being targeted by agents, foreign or domestic, either for what he knows or doesn’t know, as the agents could be living in his ageing imagination.  When Cartwright Senior’s panic button raises the alarm at Secret Service HQ we’re set for a series of twists and turns, shocking family revelations (can there be any other type?), the return of some fan favourites and the demise of others!

As ever, you can’t say a lot for fear of spoiling the fun.  What I can say is that Lamb is at his antagonistic, brilliant and cynical best (the ABC according to Lamb!).  If he were on stage he would steal the show.  But what keeps things interesting and you wanting to keep turning the page, is the other characters.  Lamb is surrounded by a bunch of misfits who aren’t as incompetent as HQ would have you believe.  Over four books I’ve grown close to these misfits as well as regular characters such as ‘Lady Di’, without whom the book would be lacking in skulduggery of the highest order.

I recommend Spook Street highly and can’t wait to read London Rules, the fifth in the series, when it hits the streets in February next year.

Book review – Real Tigers

Real Tigers (2016) is the third book in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.  Unlike my previous book review (of Malice) I didn’t jump in halfway through the series.  I read the first two in the Jackson Lamb series earlier this year and reviewed them subsequently.  While I ended that review by saying that I prefer the style of Charles Cumming to that of Mick Herron, I nevertheless said I’d plan on reading more Herron, so I’m nothing if not true to my word!

This time round the proverbial race track, one of the ‘slow horses’ is kidnapped and the cost of releasing them means the other horses breaking into MI5 HQ to steal certain politically charged information.  As ever, there’s more than meets the eye here, with plotting going on everywhere and at all levels.  Herron seems to have ramped-up the political conniving as well as the action factor, which in my opinion is a good thing on both fronts.   We also get to spend more time with the ensemble and it seems here that the characters are growing bit by bit.  You’ll have to have read the first two books to have noticed, and I think this is probably the right thing to do here, as the book carries with it sufficient history to make it hard to read as a standalone novel, albeit not impossible.

I enjoyed this as much as, if not more so, than the first two books and I’m sure that I’ll have read the fourth and most recent installment by the end of the year.  I’m still waiting to explore more of Jackson Lamb’s past and hope that we’ll get there soon enough.

Book review – Spies!

I’m a big fan of spy novels and have recently enjoyed Charles Cumming’s series of novels featuring Thomas Kell, one of which I reviewed last year.  I wanted to have a break from Thomas Kell and was pointed in the direction of Mick Herron and his Jackson Lamb books.  There are four Jackson Lamb books (and one novella) and I recently read a couple of them back to back:  Slow Horses and Dead Lions.

                     

The books are also know as the Slough House series, named after the book’s fictitious building housing the MI5 agents, led by Jackson Lamb.  Slough House is where dead beat MI5 agents are put out to pasture, having screwed up at some point in the career.  The inhabitants of Slough House are dubbed ‘Slow Horses’ by their MI5 HQ counterparts (you’d hope for a better pun, wouldn’t you!).  As you might expect, the books follow some kind of formula: the slow horses end up having to contend with an incident, overcoming their dislike of one another and their perceived incompetence to win against all the odds!  The first book focusses on a beheading to be beamed over the internet.  As is often the case, there’s more to this than meets the eye!  It’s hard to say what the second is about without giving anything away, so I won’t.

The Jackson Lamb vs. Slough House thing is interesting.  Jackson Lamb is by far the most interesting character.  An out of shape, burnt out cold warrior who we learn has seen action over the east side of the Berlin Wall.  I read Dead Lions hoping that it ventured into Lamb’s past.  It did, but not enough to my liking.  Both are well written, and don’t take themselves too seriously, getting bogged down in detail, which is where I think John Le Carre’s books suffer.  I’d recommend both and plan on reading the others at some point.  But if I had to recommend Charles Cumming or Mick Herron, I’d have to go with Cumming.

I’ve read a few Robert Harris books: Fatherland, Imperium (reviewed last year) and The Ghost.  I’d recommend all of them and was expecting great things of An Officer and a Spy (2014).  The book is based on a true story, taking place at the turn of the twentieth century.  A man, Dreyfus, has been convicted of treason only for a rising star of the army, Picquart, just appointed to run the intelligence section, to question the decision.  Picquart’s one-man crusade to determine and prove Dreyfus’s innocence sets Picquart against the army’s top brass and politicians.  While well written, the book takes a while to get going and it wasn’t until way after the half-way mark that it felt like the plot was gathering momentum.  Moreover, I didn’t really care for any of the characters, especially Picquart, who appeared particularly two dimensional.

Regrettably, I wouldn’t recommend this book.  It hasn’t however put me off Harris and I look forward to reading Lustrum, the follow-up to Cicero.