Spook Street


Author: Mick Herron
Publisher: John Murray

Mick Herron’s idiosyncratic writing is something unique in his genre, which is, one might venture, the spycraft of le Carré refracted through the blackly comic vision of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Herron’s trips to the outer reaches of British espionage already have a cult following, and this latest entry, as ever, is priceless.

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I found this a little slow at the start but soon got into it - and then what a ride! I thought the plotting was truly excellent, it blew me away, and the premise behind the novel original and striking. And it was very funny... What a collection of characters: 'eccentric' is an understatement. I cared about them, though. I got the strong sense with the politics and the routine and the ambitions and disappoitnment that this could be what life in or connected to MI5 might really be like. Looking forward to reading more from the series as this was my first, but is not the first outing for the inimitable Jackson Lamb.

Georgina Faye

Having a bunch of misfits and rejects save the day while the regular folk flounder around is not a new device but Mick Herron, in his Slough House novels, brings it off superbly.

Slough House is the home of the "Slow Horses" - spies who have either screwed up so badly or have such awkward personality defects that they cannot be trusted in mainstream MI5. They are given mindless tasks in the hope that they will resign, a cheaper option than dismissing them.

The unit head is Jackson Lamb whose sin is still undisclosed by the end of this book. A repellent personality with weight, hygiene, alcohol and flatulence problems (think Andy Dalziel multiplied by ten but with no charm or redeeming features) Lamb treats his underlings generally with contempt but backs them up tenaciously when it comes to the crunch.

The Steel Dagger-winning Spook Street, the fourth in the series, starts with a terrorist bomb in a shopping centre and moves on to an apparently unrelated attempt on the life of David Cartwright, a retired senior spook. Cartwright is developing dementia and this is acutely and poignantly detailed by Herron. The issue is not so much what he's forgotten but what he remembers - and whether he will recount it to the wrong people. Cartwright shoots the assassin and his grandson, River, is first on the scene.
River Cartwright is a slow horse keen to get back to proper spook activities. The dead assassin is easily mistaken for River - even more so when River puts another bullet in his face. Using the dead man's passport and train ticket, River disappears to France where he comes upon the smoking ruins of a mysterious establishment called Les Arbres.

More details would spoil the plot but suffice it to say that semi-competent spies, a renegade ex-CIA agent, a relentless assassin and the higher echelons of the Service, where backstabbing is a critical professional skill, coalesce and provide a dramatic finale. Thrills complement dark humour and some guessable public figures have been satirised to within an inch of libel in Herron's books. London in the pouring rain, effectively evoked, also plays a part in the proceedings.

Herron is adept at misdirection and springs surprises throughout. His combination of tense action sequences, hilarious dialogue, quirky characters, sometimes breathtaking use of language and a plot as twisty as a pirouetting whelk makes this an exhilarating and truly satisfying read. And the sequel is just out, too!

Brian Price

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Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming
Ian Fleming
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