Summary: extraordinarily bingeable, spooky epic
I started reading Mick Herron’s Slough House series a month or so ago thinking this will be a series to keep me entertained over a year or two, a palette cleanser between volumes such as Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson or other more “worthy” reading material.
Thing is, once I’d finished volume one, Slow Horses, I had to check out volume two… and once that was done, there was an urgent need to find out what was going on in volume 3…
So, in the end, I’ve read all seven books in the series in about a month, and it’s one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in many a year.
The Slough House series recounts the misadventures of the denizens of Slough House, a bunch of failed MI5 officers, stuck into a run down office in the Barbican area of London under the supervision of the vile Jackson Lamb. (“You broke the arm of a 23 year old woman.” “I’d have broken the arm of a 40 year old man too. This is what a feminist looks like.”)
Tina Fey once discussing her comic creation Jack Donaghy, for her sublime TV series 30 Rock, described him as an archetypal nightmare boss: not just one who was repulsive, but worse still one who was right an awful lot of the time.
Mick Herron’s creation, Jackson Lamb, turns this all the way up to eleven: a misanthropic, rude, bullying, flatulent, unsanitary nightmare who is, nevertheless, very funny, ferociously smart, protective of his subordinates from anyone apart from him bullying them, and just the sort of violent talent you want at your side when the chips are down.
Mick Herron has been compared with John Le Carre, and the Slough House series shares a similar milieu, and political concerns, charting the rise of authoritarianism in Brexity England. But this is Le Carre on acid. The books are very funny, often violent, and pervaded with a deep sense of dread that arises from the knowledge that your favourite characters dwell in these pages under mortal threat.
Having finished the latest novel in the series, Slough House, I am bereft. Treat yourself and jump in.
Good book review, and please see my blog for more reviewed books: judyhaiven.ca
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The Slough House series is enthralling and fun. Although Bad Actors meanders a bit, it is still almost as compelling a read as Slow Horses. Mind you, that’s not surprising: on Amazon, Mick Herron is described as “The John Le Carré of our generation” and it’s all to do with bad actors and slow horses. Who would have thought le Carré might be associated with “any generation”! In terms of acclaimed spy novels, Herron’s Slough House series has definitely made him Top Of The Pops in terms of anti-Bond writers. For Len Deighton devotees that ends a long and victorious reign at number one.
Raw noir espionage of the Slough House quality is rare, whether or not with occasional splashes of sardonic hilarity. Gary Oldman’s performance in Slow Horses has given the Slough House series the leg up the charts it deserved. Will Jackson Lamb become the next Bond? It would be a rich paradox if he became an established anti-Bond brand ambassador. Maybe Lamb should change his name to Happy Jack or Pinball Wizard or even Harry Jack. After all, Harry worked for Palmer as might Edward Burlington for Bill Fairclough in another noir but factual spy series, The Burlington Files.
Of course, espionage aficionados should know that both The Slough House and Burlington Files series were rejected by risk averse publishers who didn’t think espionage existed unless it was fictional and created by Ian Fleming or David Cornwell. However, they probably didn’t know that Fairclough once drummed with Keith Moon in their generation in the seventies.