The latest Slough House novel is always a treat. This one — which is actually called Slough House — eviscerates a woeful establishment playing at populism for its own ends.
If you’re new to the series, the premise is this. There is a team where the intelligence services (“the Service”) redeploys all those who have failed in their work, for whatever reason. While they are kept on the payroll, they spend their days in Slough House, a dark, dank building above an empty shop near the Barbican, condemned to the kind of soul-sapping office work which most of us accept as our lot.
This makes for interestingly flawed characters (as it’s their flaws that got them sent there in the first place) and people who are desperate for action whenever the hint of an opportunity presents itself, as it invariably does. Slough House has a surprisingly high death rate, which also keeps things interesting over the course of the series.
In this outing, Slough House seems to have disappeared from the Service’s records. The Slow Horses, as its inmates are known, think they are being followed. London is unstable, the country is reeling from the aftermath of Russian poisonings of citizens. There are yellow-vest protestors on the street, and former Home Secretary Peter Judd, an unpleasant opportunist with a mop of blond hair, is behind the scenes agitating for various right-wing causes, although he doesn’t appear to believe in anything except himself.
Jackson Lamb is at the heart of these various dramas. He is in charge of Slough House, the only one who is apparently there by choice, for reasons that are never revealed. Unlike his charges, he is obnoxious but infallible, a superhero in an ill-fitting suit with a fag in his mouth, smelling of booze.
The orchestration of these various strands is beautifully complex. You are carried along by the story and can have confidence with Herron that you are not going to be dropped
Slough House would probably have been spot-on topical, if it weren’t for Covid. Even so, the horrendous Judd, wilfully inciting trouble just to the point where he (thinks he) can control it, the players behind the scenes manipulating events for their own advancement, regardless of who gets hurt, make this book angrier, funnier and darker than ever, with an ending that leaves you holding your breath for the next one.
I received a copy of Slough House from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Slough House on Goodreads
Want to know more about Mick Herron and the Slough House novels?
I enjoyed the London Review Bookshop podcast with Mick Herron in which he discusses his debt to John Le Carre and Len Deighton, how he was inspired by failure, and the location of the real Slough House.