Fantastic, breathtaking, audacious and exhausting – but read the series in order for maximum enjoyment
Introducing Slough House and the Slow Horses for those coming to the series via Book 4 I though I strongly suggest, starting with book 1, and getting to this one in sequence:
The series follows a group of Z lister sppoks, and also the high fliers of the A listers of MI5, who run policy and do the high octane stuff. Slough House is where former MI5 personnel, who have fouled up in some way either through character defects or evidence of some kind of incompetence, are put out to paid grass. Someone has to do the boring stuff of videocam checks, and trawl through vehicle licence plates and phone records, and getting the disgraced ‘Slow Horses’ to do this, stops redundancy pay outs and legal cases. Chances are, the Slow Horse will resign due to extreme tedium, hence, no payout, and there will always be others to demote to Horsedom. To a man and woman, the Slow Horses regret their prior high flying status, and hope against hope that some kind of saving the world and defence of the realm activity will come their way, and they might, therefore return to the fold of MI5. In their own way, each of this fascinating group of misfits is more than capable
They are led by a monstrous, Rabelasian (at least in turns of various odoriferous bodily emissions and capacity to indulge alcohol, junk food and tobacco) man, Jackson Lamb. Lamb is the least lamb like creature imaginable. Irascible, bullying, grubby, obnoxious and lethal, sharp as a whole army of lasers and with, despite his lack of obvious appeal, a great loyalty to the band of ‘joes’ he rules and insults. Despite the drudgery of desk work, the Slow Horses are still involved in dangerous activities. Over the course of the books some have died, new characters have come to take their places, and some, there from the start, are still with us, though the danger of their work makes the reader wonder from whence the heartache of losing a strange old friend from an earlier book, will come
Herron brings different Horses into the leaders of each book’s race, and some characters met much earlier might be very very slow horses, waiting their turn to gallop to the death or marginal glory finish.
Central to this book is the aging David Cartwright. Almost ‘First Desk’ during the Cold War, he is now living in quiet retirement in the country, beginning to slide into dementia. An elderly spook, becoming loose lipped and garrulous might have dangerous secrets to unwittingly spill. And there might be several interested in plugging such a leak before it happens.
I must confess to some small disappointment with the previous book in the series, Real Tigers, though not disappointed enough to not want to proceed on to the next.
Very happily, Spook Street has gone stratospheric in my estimation. So stratospheric that I had to stop reading at times because Herron had taken me to a place where I hardly dared to advance, because of fear and grief of what might be to come. A writer does something particularly brilliant when they take a reader to a place of ‘in denial’ – I don’t think I can bear to know more, I can’t bear to not know. Suspense, anxiety, on the edge.
All through the series, from the very first page of Slow Horses, Herron has thrown justified shocks, surprises, feints, and reverses at his readers. This one though, has him pretty well surpassing himself, because, of course, we are now invested in each Slow Horse.
As ever I can’t give any information (or very little) on this one, as each reader deserves to read in innocence, in order to get the greatest level of involvement and commitment to each of Herron’s wonderful cast of characters
As in book 3 the main focus from which danger and bad deeds arise is internal – from within the organisation itself, where various individuals struggle for higher status and power over others. Some of the usual suspects are still to be found within MI5, but others are on the rise or fall. Danger of course also lurks without, from those who seek to undermine the system, but some of those within have shady ways of protecting the system, and shadier ways still of protecting their own selves.
The Horses themselves, flawed, flatulent, antisocial and strange as they may be, are still the ones with moral compasses – more than others who stalk these pages, they have a loyalty to each other, however much each of them may violently dislike or despise a fellow Horse
And London itself, as so often, is a major character in this book, in both her grime and her splendour
I am minded, whilst we now have a protracted wait whilst Herron decides how much further to ride his horses, to start a prior series by him, following the fortunes of a private detective, but with, no doubt his trademark signatures of sharp writing, wit, danger, strong characterisation, twisty plot – and surprises a plenty
I received this, as a serendipitous ARC from Amazon Vine. It certainly looked like an example of meaningful targeting as I bought books 1,2, and 3 in the series in extremely rapid succession. Payback time now though…as this one has only recently been published…now all I can do is wait. I hope Herron is writing, writing, writing