Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review of Slow Horses by Mick Herron (Soho Crime, 2010)

Slough House, an anonymous building in Central London, is where failed British spies are dumped in the hope that they will call it quits and leave the service.  There they do hours of boring, tedious, low-level work while trying to work out a way back to Regent’s Park and the intelligence heartland.  River Cartwright should be a rising star, but after causing chaos when an evaluation exercise goes wrong he finds himself transcribing mobile phone calls.  When a young Pakistani man is kidnapped by Far Right extremists who are threatening to behead him, River sees an opportunity for redemption.  Soon he’s dragged the other slow horses into his secret mission.  However, nothing is quite what it seems and rather than winning the race the slow horses could well be on the way to being put down for good.  However, they’re not going to go without a fight.

Slow Horses has an intriguing hook – what happens to spies that become a potential liability – those that have not done enough to be sacked but have a big question mark hanging over them?  Are they forced out the service or put out to pasture?  Britain’s answer is Slough House, a building full of misfits desperate to find their way back to the centre.  In Slow Horses, the first book in a series, a young agent side-lined for causing a major emergency shutdown of a mainline station decides he’s not simply going to serve his time, but is going to earn a recall, even if it means going head-to-head with the centre.  His ragbag collection of colleagues are soon, if reluctantly, drawn into his unofficial mission, and they’re all soon teetering on being out of their depth, with the exception of their boss, a field agent of some renown.  Rather than stick with one point of focus, the tale spends time with each of the Slough House occupants, their rivals, and the victim at the core of their mission.  It's a strategy that works well, introducing the reader to the ensemble cast.  And rather than the story being a thriller with a capital T, the game being played is more cloak and dagger and character-driven, though there is still tension and some dramatic action.  There is also some nice contextualisation concerning post 9/11 right-wing politics.  The result is an enjoyable spy tale for the modern age that would translate well to television.


Older but not particularly wiser... said...

Just finished this book myself, Rob.
Totally concur with your comments.
Highly enjoyable, without being edge of the seat stuff.
Particularly enjoyed the Jackson Lamb character and there was just enough early in the book, to make me keep going back for more.
I'll certainly purchase the follow-up.


Mathew Paust said...

Interesting premise. Sounds like a fun read, Rob,