Slough House by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

’Kill us?  They’ve never needed to kill us,’ said Lamb.  ‘I mean, look at us.  What would be the point?’

A year after a calamitous blunder by the Russian secret service left a British citizen dead from Novichok poisoning, Diana Taverner is on the warpath.  What seems a gutless response from the government has pushed the Service’s First Desk into mounting her own counter-offensive – but she’s had to make a deal with the devil fist.  And given that the devil in question is arch-manipulator Peter Judd, she could be about to lose control of everything she’s fought for.

Meanwhile, still reeling from recent losses, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold.  Slough House has been wiped from Service records, and fatal accidents keep happening.  No wonder Jackson Lamb’s crew are feeling paranoid.  But they have they actually been targeted?

With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bider, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements.  The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.

Bu the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.

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

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s a couple of months after JOE COUNTRY.

Jackson Lamb’s Slough House crew are still coming to terms with the events in Wales that saw the death of ex-Dog Emma Flyte and their own J K Coe but they also have a more serious problem to deal with: Roderick ‘Roddy’ Ho has discovered that someone in the Park has wiped their records from the Service database.  They’re still getting paid but no longer formally exist and things get more sinister when Louisa Guy discovers that someone from the Service is trailing her and the other slow horses find that they are also being followed. 

For River Cartwright, however, all of this plays second fiddle to the fact that not only is Sidonie ‘Sid’ Baker still alive, but she’s turned up at his dead grandfather’s house in Kent because she needs his help.  She thinks that there are two people trying to kill her and River doesn’t know if it’s a real threat or something caused by the gunshot wound to the head that she took at the end of SLOW HORSES.

Meanwhile Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner has decided to strike back at Russian secret services on their home soil in retaliation for the Novichok poisoning attack in Salisbury.  To do so, however, she’s had to strike up an alliance with ex-politician turned PR guru Peter Judd who has put together a group of patriotically minded billionaires willing to fund operations that the British state may balk at.  But Lady Di is slowly learning that the patriotism doesn’t mean they don’t have demands and YouTube billionaire-turned-new-channel owner Damien Cantor in particular would like Lady Di to come on his show and do an interview.

As the slow horses try to work out what’s going on, they find themselves caught up in events outside their control and in the cross hairs of a ruthless enemy who doesn’t care about collateral damage …

The 7th in Mick Herron’s SLOUGH HOUSE SERIES is another fast-paced, action packed spy thriller that adds biting satire to the temperature of the nation.  There is a sense of pieces being moved ready for further developments, most notably in the change in dynamic between Judd and Lady Di, and it’s not clear what the return of Sid will mean long term but the devastating ending and the question it leaves means I am very keen to read the next book.

There is a lot going on in this book with two main plot lines – why Slough House has been deleted from the Service’s records and the fallout from Lady Di’s decision to sock it to Russia’s GRU.  Herron does his usual, clever job of merging these strands into one and there’s a lot of fun to be had in seeing how it ties in with the continuing battle between Lamb and Lady Di over control of Slough House and its resources.  I particularly liked one scene between Lamb and Lady Di that showed the frustration she feels towards him but also the grudging respect she also has for his opinion and how that comes with Lamb’s utter contempt for what she stands for.

The main series development is the return of Sid Baker, which was first teased in LONDON RULES but finally Herron reveals that yes, she did survive SLOW HORSES and has spent the last few years recuperating in a Service facility in the Lake District.  It’s clear that she’s changed due to the shooting, a little slower and less bright, but there’s an excellent set-piece towards the end that shows she’s not out of the game.  I would have liked to have got a bit more emotion in the scenes between her and River given the flirtation between them in SLOW HORSES but Herron’s very restrained, showing touches of River’s guilt over what happened to her at the same time as gently indicating there could be something more here as well.

Herron uses the plot to make some biting comments about the use of private money in security operations and the importance of standing up to bullies.  If I was being nit-picky, then I’d question why Lady Di didn’t do her due diligence before getting back in withJudd given how careful she usually is, but equally Herron does make clear they had history together and the nature of the revelation does hold a lot of delicious possibilities for future books given how ensnared Lady Di now is.  Herron also makes some sharp digs about the role of the media in shaping the political agenda courtesy of newcomer Damien Cantor whose only loyalty is to his own power and wealth.

Also on the nit-picky line, I’m not sure that the use of new character Reese Nesmith III really added a huge amount other than to give Lamb the chance to make some trademark un-PC comments about dwarfism.  Given what Reese’s boyfriend was doing, there’s clearly some potential for him to pop up in future books and if so, I would like to have him get more to do than being the butt of the joke.  More interesting is the introduction of Desmond Flint and his Yellow Vest movement and the way that Judd is latching onto them.  The way Herron skewers Boris Johnson through Judd (especially through his speeches) is just beautifully done but he also does well at showing the artifice and the naked desire for power, whatever it takes.

The book ends with what was for me, a truly devastating development and even though you know what no one in Slough House is safe, I wasn’t expecting it to hit that character.  Herron does leave open the potential of a rescue (and I am really anxious to get the next book so that I can see how it plays out) but on past form, I can’t say that I’m hopeful.  Also interesting in this context are the continued allusions to Lamb’s poor health, which seems to be worsening, and does not bode well for future books, although we also see more of Lamb’s ruthless side here as well as his loyalty to his joes and to those who help his joes (one scene at the end where a side character who said something revolting to Molly gets his dues is particularly satisfying).

All in all and nitpicks aside, I thought this was a great read in a series where there’s been no let up in quality and I genuinely cannot wait to see what Herron does next with these characters.  

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