Joe Country is the sixth Slough House novel. I would definitely recommend reading them in order, but if you’re coming to them for the first time, this is the setup.
The staff of Slough House are all employees of the intelligence services who have messed up in one way or another. Rather than being sacked, they are exiled from active service and the headquarters at Regents Park.
They are condemned to do mind-numbing tasks in a dank, dark building, under the supervision of Jackson Lamb, a former agent who appears offensive and incompetent but retains a mysterious aura of invincibility. Somehow, despite their remit, the so-called ‘slow horses’ find themselves intermittently having to behave almost like real agents, but with none of the supporting infrastructure.
Herron has kept things fresh throughout the series by bringing in new people to replace those that leave (no spoilers but a stint at Slough House doesn’t generally end in glittering promotion or quiet retirement). In Joe Country, a new member has joined the team, and the reasons for his disgrace gradually emerge and are fully exploited by Jackson Lamb.
Meanwhile Diana Taverner, the head of the service at Regents Park, is at the heart of political intrigue, sparring with a disgraced former politician with fluffy blond hair and a ruthless eye for self-aggrandisement. (The previous novel, London Rules, dealt head-on and hilariously with our current sorry political landscape.)
However, the main focus is on the pasts of the Slow Horses. Disruption at an agent’s funeral and the ringing of a dead colleague’s phone spark them into action. The prologue sets up the tension by giving you a hint of how it ends – that two of their team will die as they confront a dangerous enemy in rural Wales.
I should have loved this, but didn’t quite, and I’m not sure why. I don’t think it’s less well written than the others, and it’s still a good read. Perhaps, despite the changing cast of characters, those who remain are a little too familiar. Bringing up relationships which featured in earlier novels increased the sense of déjà vu. I also worry that Jackson Lamb, with his farts and his offensive comments and his uncanny omniscience, is edging close to becoming a caricature of himself.
There is a hint at the end of this book that Slough House might be about to get a shake-up. I’m interested to see where this series goes next.
I received a copy of Joe Country from the publisher via Netgalley.
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