The Blurb On The Back:
Old spooks carry the memory of tradecraft in their bones, and when Solomon Dortmund sees an envelope being passed from one pair of hands to another in a Marylebone cafe, he knows he’s witnessed more than an innocent encounter. But in relaying his suspicions to John Bachelor, who babysits retired spies like Solly, he sets in train events which will alter lives. Bachelor himself, a hair’s breadth away from sleeping in his car, is clawing his way back to stability; Hannah Weiss, the double agent whose recruitment was his only success, is starting to enjoy the secrets and lies her role demands; and Lech Wicinski, an Intelligence Service analyst, finds that a simple favour for an old acquaintance might derail his career. Meanwhile, Lady Di Taverner is trying to keep the Service on an even keel, and if that means throwing the odd crew member overboard, well: collateral damage is her speciality.
A drop, in spook parlance, is the passing on of secret information.
It’s also what happens just before you hit the ground.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s several months since THE LIST and John Bachelor, who handles the management of retired spies on behalf of Regent’s Park, survived that affair by bringing in Hannah Weiss as a double agent, working for both MI-5 and the German BND. Far from winning him the gratitude of the service though, Bachelor’s life has hit tough times: Weiss was given a different handler (Richard Pynne, the ambitious current favourite of Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner) and Bachelor was down-sized to a part-time role, which – when coupled with poor investments and an expensive divorce – has reduced him to couch-surfing and sleeping in his car. So the last thing he needs is for retired spy Solomon Dortmund to summon him with news that he saw a drop being made between a pretty blonde woman and an older man in a Marylebone café.
Bachelor is certain that Dortmund is mistaken – why would anyone be doing something so old-fashioned as a drop in this day and age? – but Dortmund is insistent and he has a name for one of the people he saw, so Bachelor hits up an analyst contact at Regent’s Park – Alex Wicinski – to see if he can find anything. Doing so, though, sets off a chain of events with ramifications for everyone involved …
Mick Herron’s latest addition to THE SLOUGH HOUSE SERIES is a tightly written short story that picks up where THE LIST left off with Herron’s customary wit and fast pacing but while it’s enjoyable, it’s more of an episode in a side series than a story in its own right and expensive for what it is. Unless you’re a hard core fan, my advice would be to wait for these novellas to be amalgamated into a collection rather than buying them separately.
I like the character of John Bachelor – a loser and an alcoholic in denial – who’s fallen on hard times in part due to his own failures and decisions and is desperately trying to find a way out of the hole he’s dug himself into while also keeping his dignity. His relationship with Solomon Dortmund (who Herron effortlessly makes you believe in within just a couple of pages) is well drawn and I enjoyed their exchanges.
Herron also expands on Hannah Weiss (introduced at the end of THE LIST) whose long-game deception is deliciously explored further here. I enjoyed her manipulative machinations of everyone around her and, in particular, the scenes involving her BND handler, Martin Kreutzmer, an old-school spy who’s intent on teaching her Cold War tradecraft because he knows it may one day come in useful for her. Herron makes razor sharp observations about the relationship between Germany and Britain as the allies are not above trying to get the drop (no pun intended) on each other using any means necessary and he deploys his trade mark skewering of the arrogance, ambition and incompetence at play in Regent’s Park (as always, the awful Lady Di is an absolute scene stealer). Herron also introduces a new character in Alex Wicinski who, while getting little page time here, seems about to take on a bigger role in the main SLOUGH HOUSE SERIES.
However, much as I enjoyed this book (and I think any SLOUGH HOUSE fan will get a kick out of it) the ending is a little abrupt (with a deus ex machine feel to it) and there is an episodic feel to it – as if this is another scene in a longer collection and given the cover price of £9.99, it’s a very slim volume for a very high price. It’s inevitable that the publishers will at some point put all of the novellas into one collection and, failing that, it’s possible that this short story will go into the back of special editions of the next SLOUGH HOUSE book so I think that unless you are a hard-core SLOUGH HOUSE completest, you are better off waiting for that than buying this.
THE DROP was released in the United Kingdom on 1st November 2018. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.