I was drawn to reading the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron via a recommendation from Jen Williams (@sennydreadful on Twitter and a fine author herself), and before I finished the first one had already bought the second.
That should tell you something.
Slough House is the (as far as we know, fictional) part of MI5 and located near the Barbican in London. It’s where those members of the service who have blotted their copybooks are sent to endure a miserable, slow decline in the hopes that they will see sense and voluntarily resign; in my experience in the civil service the equivalent is being assigned to Special Projects or being sent to work in the library when you aren’t a librarian, though to be honest I could never understand why that was thought to be a punishment.
Anyway, the books.
Slow Horses is the terribly tortuous punning name given to those who “work” there, carrying out a series of meaningless tasks and boring paperwork. But Jackson Lamb knows what he’s doing and when, in the first novel, he senses that there is something not right at all about the hooded figure tied up and threatened with death on the interwebs, he finds a way for his team to get involved in a proper mission to resolve the issue. I won’t say any more about that.
In Dead Lions, the fallout from the previous novel is still being felt – and that’s one of the things I like about the series, it builds on what’s gone before – and when a former colleague is found dead on a bus (that’s what you get these days on rail replacement services) he feels the need to investigate, at a time when a couple of members of his team have been assigned to protect a visiting Russian oligarch. It slowly become clear that the two issues are connected.
I really enjoy a good spy novel – one of my favourite reading experiences was le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy which I found in my then father-in-law’s bookshelf (and why didn’t the BBC film that?) – and these are wonderfully seedy, with that depressed air you get in some parts of the public service where everything seems futile. The characters are really strong, there are the obligatory wheels within wheels and of course lots and lots of double crossing. And when things happen there are real consequences.
There is a very good interview with Mick Herron in the Guardian which gives some insight into the characters he’s created, and this in particular made me laugh:
[…] I’m a London-bound commuter and an open-plan-office worker, and anyone who’s been either of those things knows that bile and venom are only ever a hair’s-breadth away.
I fully intend to read the whole series and if you like a good post-Cold War spy story you should give them a try too.