Slow Horses by Mick Herron – review

Published by John Murray

Publication date – 8 October 2015

Source – own copy

You don’t stop being a spook just because you’re no longer in the game.

Banished to Slough House from the ranks of achievers at Regent’s Park for various crimes of drugs and drunkenness, lechery and failure, politics and betrayal, Jackson Lamb’s misfit crew of highly trained joes don’t run ops, they push paper.

But not one of them joined the Intelligence Service to be a ‘slow horse’.

A boy is kidnapped and held hostage. His beheading is scheduled for live broadcast on the net.

And whatever the instructions of the Service, the slow horses aren’t going to just sit quiet and watch . . .

The slow horses are the spies relegated to Slough House for various crimes and misdemeanours such as drunkenness, drug use and leaving classified material on the tube. They paper push, day after day. But when a young man is kidnapped they realise they can’t just sit on the side-lines. The Slow Horses get ready to run.

So what do you do with a band of broken Bonds? How do you deal with a spoiled spooks and shoddy spies? Send them to Slough House where they become a slow horse. Relegated to pen pushing and day after relentless day of listening to recorded conversations, the slow horses are stabled at Slough House with the hope they’ll retire themselves. What the powers that be don’t count on is the resilience, or to be more accurate, pig-headedness, of the disparate group of men and women that have been consigned to gather dust in a dingy office.

The writing is acerbic, insightful and hits close to the bone on many occasions. The political climate is just as relevant today as it was when the book was first published. Threats from extremists of the homegrown variety sit alongside the ‘usual’ threats to security. There is commentary on the rise of extreme right-wing violent groups, of racial tensions and of floppy haired politicians using their much-loved buffoon exteriors to hide the fact they are willing to do almost anything to succeed their own personal goals.

None of the characters are particularly likeable. They work together every day and barely speak to each other. River Cartwright has such a large chip on his shoulder I’m surprised he doesn’t fall over. Roderick Ho is anti-social to the point of offensive and completely oblivious to the fact. Caroline Standish, Sidonie Baker, Min Harper and Louisa Guy all have their own individual issues and Jed Moody seems trapped in some sort of regression where he is still the spook he once was. Then there is Jackson Lamb. I imagined him to be a cross between Jim Royale and Rab C Nesbitt with the crime fighting skills of Cracker. Overweight, uncouth, opinionated and rude, he does and says what he wants. And that turns out to be the most effective thing when the slow horses try to save Hassan, the man who is due to be beheaded.

The narrative flits between the slow horses, MI5 and Hassan and slowly the picture becomes clearer. There are many things at play and they all tie up nicely together. Being the first in the series I would recommend starting here. Slow Horses introduces the characters and sets the scene for what appears to be a cracking series.

I don’t read spy novels, I told myself when a myriad of people recommended this book to me. Well it turns out I do. And I will be reading more of them very soon.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. I hear such good things about this series but I’ve never read it – like you, I think I’m not a reader of spy novels. I am though, because I definitely want to read this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I’d love to hear what you think of it. A friend at work read my review and bought it, She’s already on the second book in the series 🙂


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