Monday, January 6, 2014

Review of Dead Lions by Mick Herron (2013, Soho Press)

Dickie Bow used to be a bottom-feeding British intelligence agent operating in Berlin in the 1980s.  When he spots one of his old time Russian rivals he decides to shadow him.  Only Dickie never completes the journey, being found dead on a replacement rail bus travelling between Reading and Oxford.  Nobody is suspicious about his death except Jackson Lamb, head of Slough House, a dumping ground for washed up intelligence workers.  An unsent message on Dickie’s phone points to Alexander Popov, a master spy that the British had discounted as a fake profile, and a network of deep sleeping moles.  His interest piqued, Lamb starts to investigate using his team of misfits.  Two of the team, however, have been seconded to help facilitate the recruitment of a Russian billionaire with political ambitions.  Something is not quite right about the operation, but both are looking for a route out of Slough House.  A skilled political operator with a nose for intrigue and deception, Lamb sniffs trouble and soon finds it.

Dead Lions is a modern day spy story set in London and the home counties.  It’s central cast are a handful of misfit intelligence workers who have been reassigned to Slough House for various misdemeanours, some personal (alcoholic, gambler, anger management), some operational (messed up an operation).   They are led by the irascible snide, Jackson Lamb, who after years in intelligence knows where all the bodies are buried and how to play the game.  The plot has two strands -- the death of a former intelligence agent and the possibility of a deep sleeping network of Russian agents being reactivated, and the potential recruitment of a Russian billionaire by British intelligence -- that Herron carefully intersplices, leading to an exciting dénouement.  What separates Dead Lions from other contemporary spy fiction is Herron’s colourful, crafted prose, the use of some interesting narrative devices, such as a cat’s tour of Slough House at the start and a mouse’s at the end, the underlying black humour, and his cast of nonconformist agents.  The characterisation is very nicely penned, as are the engagements between characters.  The plot is engaging and entertaining, but at times felt a little too fanciful.  Dead Lions was a great read and I intend to read the first book in the series, Slow Horses, and to continue to follow the adventures of the Slough House team.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This sounds like something Phil would like.

TracyK said...

Sorry to be late, I thought I had commented. I am eager to read this one and Slow Horses. Enjoyed your review.