Slow Horses by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

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 internet.

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

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

When River Cartwright botches a training exercise so badly that it makes the TV news it should mean the end of his fledgling career with the Intelligence Services.  It’s only because his grandfather (a service legend who he calls the O.B.) is able to call in some favours that River’s exiled to Slough House instead.

But perhaps being sacked would be better.

Slough House is where the rejects – misfits, recovering alcoholics, mess-ups, and incompetents – are put under the leadership of Jackson Lamb, a former joe (undercover spy) turned desk jockey.  Lamb has poor personal hygiene, disgusting habits, a 1950s attitude to race, gender and sexuality and undisguised contempt for those in his charge.  The idea of being sent to Slough House is to grind you down with tedious paperwork and tasks that have no purpose until you leave of their own accord.

But when a 19-year-old Muslim university student is abducted and his kidnappers promise to behead him live on the internet, the slow horses realise that there’s a connection with one of their own pointless tasks and that connection takes them to some very dark places …

The first in Mick Herron’s JACKSON LAMB SERIES is a smartly written, fast-paced espionage thriller with some great one-liners, a dark sense of humour and an overall vibe of SPOOKS meets Le Carre.  The misfit cast of slow horses are broadly drawn (notably Roderick Ho, a stereotypical computer geek with no social skills) but all develop over the course of the book.  River and Lamb get the most attention and there are hints of intriguing elements in both their backgrounds, which promises much for later books although Lamb’s personal habits are overdone.  The plot itself is well crafted with plenty of twists and turns and I particularly enjoyed the way the plot incorporates the internal politics and ambitions of those within the Intelligence Service and the political classes (especially Peter Judd, a sly dig at a certain floppy haired Foreign Secretary) plus Herron is unsentimental at killing characters who you might think would become integral to the wider series.  I also enjoyed the focus that Herron gives to Hassan Ahmed (the kidnapping victim who just wants to be a stand up comedian) whose ordeal gives the book emotional resonance.  All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the sequel.

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