London Rules by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

London Rules might not be written down, but everyone knows rule one.

Cover your arse.

Regent’s Park’s First Desk, Claude Whelan, is learning this the hard way.  Tasked with protecting a beleaguered prime minister, he’s facing attack from all directions himself: from the showboating MP who orchestrated the Brexit vote, and now has his sights set on Number Ten; from the showboat’s wife, a tabloid columnist, who’s crucifying Whelan in print; and especially from his own deputy, Lady Di Taverner, who’s alert for Claude’s every stumble.

Meanwhile, the country’s being rocked by an apparently random string of terror attacks, and someone’s trying to kill Roddy Ho.

Over at Slough House, the crew are struggling with personal problems: repressed grief, various addictions, retail paralysis, and the nagging suspicion that their newest colleague is a psychopath.  But, collectively, they’re about to rediscover their greatest strength – that of making a bad situation much, much worse.

It’s a good job Jackson Lamb knows the rules.  Because those things aren’t going to break themselves.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 2 months after SPOOK STREET.  Regent’s Park is hunting for a terrorist cell that’s carrying out random but deadly attacks across Britain and First Desk Claude Whelan is feeling the pressure.  The Prime Minister needs his support to maintain control of his fractious party, the Brexit MP Dennis Gimball is planning to parlay his Referendum success into a move to Number 10 while his wife, Dodie Gimball uses her newspaper column to attack Claude for his incompetence in hunting for the cell and all the time the Second Desk, Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner is circling around, looking for the chance to push him out.

But at least Claude doesn’t have to worry about the Slough House crew.

River Cartwright is still coming to terms with the OB’s dementia (which has seen him moved into a home for elderly spies) and doesn’t know whether he wants to stay in MI-5 while Shirley Dander is still coming to terms with Marcus’s death – going so far as to stay off the coke while she finishes her anger management classes.  Meanwhile Roderick Ho is obsessed with Pokemon Go and his hot girlfriend, Kim, who constantly needs his help righting wrongs committed against her credit card, Catherine Standish is trying to make Jackson Lamb’s expenses claims less outrageous, J K Coe is writing Dear John letters for spies abandoning their girlfriends and Louisa Guy is looking up library records to see who’s been checking out books used by terrorists and Jackson Lamb sits above all of them, devising new ways to make their lives miserable.

And then Shirley saves Roderick from being hit by a car and becomes convinced that someone is trying to kill him.  But who’d want to kill him (apart from everyone who’s ever met him?) and really, why bother?

The fifth in Mick Herron’s superb JACKSON LAMB SERIES is another superb spy thriller packed with action, twists, turns, intrigue and plotting and laugh-out-loud humour, which had me engrossed from start (which features a chilling terrorist attack that plays with reader perceptions) to a finish that offers two massive bombshells and makes me desperate to read book six.

The best thing about this book is that it’s a real ensemble piece – everyone gets a chance to shine, even Roderick who is completely and utterly clueless about the situation he’s put himself in (some of my favourite scenes are where Roderick fails to understand what is going on – particularly those where he thinks he’s been put in protective custody).  Shirley also plays a more significant role here and I enjoyed the subtle depiction of her struggle with grief, as shown through her struggle to avoid using the wrap of coke she has on her at all times.  J K Coe also gets more development than in SPOOK STREET (and if you buy the Waterstone’s exclusive edition, there’s an extra short story featuring him) and I’ll be interested to see how Herron uses him in future books given that he’s clearly in full on psychopath mode but appears to know things even Jackson isn’t aware of. River and Louisa are more supporting players here, although both still get some good scenes and lines and Herron shrewdly pairs them with characters they wouldn’t otherwise work with, which throws up some interesting exchanges.

Jackson himself is as consistently shrewd, rude and crude as ever and Herron also gives him the best lines (one exchange with Roderick literally made me laugh out loud on the Tube) but there are also hints that all is not well with him and the way the book ends points to a possible clash between him and Catherine (who’s forbearance of his worst tendencies could well be coming to an abrupt stop).

Herron has a lot of fun with the dreadful Gimballs (think of a hybrid Nigel Farage and Michael Gove married to a hybrid Sarah Vine and Katie Hopkins) and the politics of Regent’s Park are as fascinating as ever, especially as Di Taverner works her machinations to get the prized First Desk.  I also enjoyed the return of Molly Doran, the Regent’s Park keeper of records, who’s facing redundancy but still won’t take any of Jackson’s rubbish.

I thoroughly admire the way Herron is able to keep his various plot strands moving and at the same time harken back to events in earlier books (this is particularly well used in the case of River whose preoccupation with the OB and his own role in MI5 makes him think back to events in SLOW HORSES and the ending to this book suggests that this is going to be significant in the next book).

Ultimately I thought this was a really great book but to get the most from it, you do need to read the earlier books (which I would strongly urge you to do) and I really can’t wait to see what happens next.

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