Book Review, Dead Lions, Espionage, MI5, Mick Herron, Spy thriller
“Grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind” (Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Wordsworth)
So………having encountered Mick Herron’s first in his Jackson Lamb series, a bare week or so ago, I was utterly unable to resist downloading and compulsively devouring book 2. And (whispers): it might be even better
In Dead Lions, Mick Herron’s second Slough House/Jackson Lamb series spy thriller, Herron has further sharpened his pencil, turned up the dry wit, turned up the reverses to wrong foot (justifiably) the reader. And he has turned up the shock and the darkness, having softened up the reader by the effortless amusement in the earlier part of the book.
there was something about him, even leaving aside the secondhand clothing, the stained walls, the desperate address. Something off, like that gap between the use by date, and the moment the milk turns
But, be warned, killer punches are coming
Of course I recommend, highly, starting with Book 1,Slow Horses, getting to meet the characters, as different members of the second division of MI5 (or, perhaps even relegated lower than that) will come to the forefront and centre of Herron’s focus, and you will be deepening your knowledge of, and appreciation for, the spooks you meet (old and new) in Dead Lions
However, Herron has constructed his books well, and finds a way to introduce any needed back story and character details for new readers picking up book 2 by chance.
The storyline in this book, published in 2013, has Russia at its centre (and how topical might this be?) But this is a new Russia. Some of the spooks who have been around for a while are still stuck in an old Cold War scenario, where communism and capitalism square up against each other. Russia, as many have noted of late, has moved markedly rightwards, and its interests may no longer be in helping the workers of the world, who have nothing to lose but their chains, to unite.
An old, not very high flying, not very valuable, spook from the days of the fall of the Berlin Wall, sees a face he recognises. This (British) cipher clerk, was too lowly, too incompetent, even to merit deployment to ‘Slough House’ where spooks who have fouled up, get shafted to end their days as pen pushers, CCTV footage perusers, in order for government to avoid redundancy golden handshakes. In the fullness of time, is the thinking, the demoted ones will get fed up, and hand in their notice, saving payouts.
The ex-spook seeing a face from the past decides to trail the man from the other side, he last saw, memorably, at the end of the 80s. And so begins a whole, complex, twisty tangle of information, disinformation, plots, sub-plots, and things which are very much not what they seem.
It is set partly in the epicentre – London, and partly in that most English of English, safe, old fashioned, cosy part of the country, the Cotswolds – though a part of it not quite mainstream tourist destination:
Upshott has no high street, not like those in nearby villages, with their parades of mock-Tudor frontages gracefully declining riverwards….;whose grocery stores offer stem-ginger biscuits and seven kinds of pesto….. Because Upshott doesn’t invite the epithet ‘chocolate boxy’ , so often delivered through gritted teeth. If it resembles any kind of chocolate box, it’s the kind found on the shelf at its only supermarket: coated with dust, its cellophane crackly and yellowing
Some of the characters met in the first book are here again – but some are not. Espionage, even for the Slow Horses of Slough House is a dangerous game. And the more Herron invests the reader in each of the characters he develops, the more, I suspect, will reading subsequent books be a mixture of feverish page turning pleasure – and pain.
Yes. I cried, where I had laughed before.
Book 3 is now downloaded on the eReader, and I have book 4 (the latest) as an ARC Herron is THAT compulsive, THAT good.
Dead Lions won the 2013 CWA Gold Dagger Award, and was a ‘Best Crime Novel of the Year’ for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, and A Times crime and thriller book of the year. And I wouldn’t argue with any of that
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