Joe Country by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

”We’re spies,” said Lamb.  “All kinds of outlandish shit goes on.”

Like the ringing of a dead man’s phone or an unwelcome guest at a funeral …

In Slough House memories are stirring, all of them bad.  Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him an outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process.

And with winter taking its grip Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can’t ignore the dried blood on his carpets.  So when the man responsible breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score.

This time, they’re heading into joe country. And they’re not all coming home.

You can buy JOE COUNTRY by Mick Herron from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several months after LONDON RULES and 2 days after THE DROP.

Rocked by Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner’s revelation that Jackson Lamb killed her old boss, recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish has taken to visiting off licences again and likes to bring a bottle home.  Shirley Dander is still on drugs (albeit less often than she used to) and she’s more aware of her anger issues, even if she doesn’t like to manage it.  J K Coe is … Well, he hasn’t killed anyone recently so that’s a plus.

Roderick ‘Roddy’ Ho has finally realised that his hot girlfriend was playing him for a sucker.  This has dented his inflated sense of self-worth but he’s making up for it by trying to work out what misdeed has brought his new office mate Alex ‘Lech’ Wicinski to Slough House, even if he has to rifle through the man’s waste paper bin to do so.  Wicinski, meanwhile, is trying to piece together how his career as an analyst imploded into an accusation of paedophilia.  He’s sure it has something to do with a search he was asked to do by an old acquaintance – he just has to persuade Regent’s Park that he wasn’t watching child porn on his work laptop …

Louisa Guy is thinking about her dead lover, Min Harper (a slow horse who died in DEAD LIONS) because his ex-wife, Clare, wants Louisa’s help in tracking down her eldest son Lucas, who has apparently run away. Lady Di has achieved her ambition of becoming First Desk at Regent’s Park and is now working to consolidate her position and settle old scores, the first of which is making sure that Emma Flyte is removed from her position as head of the Dogs – maybe even a move to Slough House would be in order?

When River Cartwright spots his father – ex-CIA agent Frank Harkness (last seen pushing River from a bridge in SPOOK STREET) – at the funeral for a former spy, he’s determined to track him down and bring him to justice.  Lamb – who hasn’t forgiven Harkness for the death of Slough House’s Marcus Longridge – is after a more permanent revenge and he’s willing to send his slow horses into joe country in order to get it …

The 6th in Mick Herron’s JACKSON LAMB SERIES is slow to start and there is a sense of Herron snipping old plot strands in order to move players and events into place for the end game.  However there’s a lot of good character development – particularly Lamb – the plot, when it gets going, moves at a good pace, there are 3 character deaths (one’s very sad) and the mysterious ending makes me desperate to find out what awaits Slough House next.

I had been really looking forward to this book because LONDON RULES ended on a big cliff hanger relating to Sid so I was looking forward to seeing how that paid off.  With apologies for the spoiler – it doesn’t.  Not at all.  It’s many pages before it even gets a mention and then it’s brushed off completely. Frankly I felt a bit cheated by that – not least because Herron has teased this a couple of times now in the series since Sid’s apparent demise in SLOW HORSES and there’s only so many times he can cry wolf.

I was also a bit frustrated because the book is very slow to get started with the plot not really kicking in until the spy funeral.  This is partly because there’s a wide cast of Slow Horses, plus Lady Di for Herron to think about and reintroduce but there’s also an element of joining up the plot lines from the main JACKSON LAMB novels with the German double agent story line that’s been playing out in the accompanying short stories.  I think you do need to have read THE LIST and THE DROP to get the background to that and get the most out of this book because it features prominently in the story but you can still follow events if you haven’t done so because Herron gives enough information to do so.

That said, once the plot gets going, Herron keeps it cracking with the pace making up for what is basically little more than an extended chase through the snowy Welsh countryside.  I also like to see the contrast in the machinations of Lady Di (who here is greeted by the return of Peter Judd who has parlayed his political downfall into a successful PR business and is hanging about with the great and the good and a few dodgy countries while he plots his return to political power) and Lamb’s own agenda (which is basically to leave him alone).  Herron gives hints as to the bigger game that Lady Di is playing and the ending left me genuinely puzzles (and a little fearful) as to what she’s got planned for Slough House and Jackson Lamb (who I am also worried about given that his cough doesn’t seem to be getting any better).

In terms of the slow horses, this is pretty much a Louisa and River story as both work through their emotional issues and relationships with a dead lover and absentee father respectfully.  Coe and Shirley do make appearances but in the case of Shirley, I got a sense that Herron’s running out of things for her to do, although I would have liked to have seen more Coe who has always been the most mysterious in terms of what happened to him.  I liked the bigger role for Emma Flyte, who works well in her scenes with Louisa and Lady Di and I very much enjoyed the confrontation between Catherine and Jackson over what he did to her ex boss and why.  I thought it was a beautifully written scene that gave you so much of both their characters and it really shows how utterly ruthless Lamb is, which foreshadows something that happens towards the end.  Alec has little to do here than be a plot mechanism but given some of the things that happen to him here, I’ll be interested to see how he develops in the next book.

There are 3 character deaths in the book.  I was expecting two of them (one of them because I could tell what twist was coming a little too early) but the third left me genuinely upset – although I have to say that the death was completely appropriate for that character.

Ultimately, I don’t think this book was quite as good as the preceding books but then that would have been a very tall order.  What Herron does do well is make you care about the characters while also creating a sense of mystery as to what will happen to them next and I am already counting down the days until I can find out.

JOE COUNTRY was released in the United Kingdom on 20th June 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

3 thoughts on “Joe Country by Mick Herron

  1. Hi. In the lunch scene between Lady Do and Judd two events are mentioned that I was not aware of: Judd sending Seb to assinate Lamb, and Judd and Di having sex at some point in the past. Did those happen offstage or am I missing a short story somewhere? Thanks 🙂

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    • It’s been a few years since I read REAL TIGERS and SPOOK STREET but I thought that the assassination storyline was tied into those books because it’s what led to Judd’s downfall. The sexual thing was something new.

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