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.
By Sandy Sandilands