Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review of Spook Street by Mick Herron (John Murray, 2017)

It appeared to be a flash mob, hundreds of kids dancing in a shopping mall, but then there was a real flash as a bomb exploded leaving dozens dead. British intelligence has tracked back the bomber to where he was staying, but there the trail goes cold. His first week in the job, and new director, Claude Whelan, is having a baptism of fire. The residents of Slough House, a dumping ground for failed personnel, are having a slower week, doing tedious, trivial work. One of their number, River Cartwright, is concerned about his grandfather, a Service legend, who now has early stage dementia. When an unknown assailant seeks to murder the Old Bastard, River entrusts him to a Slough House friend, not sure if the hit was orchestrated by the Service to maintain secrets, and sets out to discover who wanted his grandfather dead. Emma Flyte, the new head of internal policing at the Service, has a bombing to worry about, and a dead man in David Cartwright’s bathroom is an unwelcome distraction, as is the uncouth head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb. With River seemingly lost in action, Lamb’s charges swing into action with their usual sub-par efforts determined to run their own investigation and protect his grandfather.

Spook Street is the fourth book in the Slough House series following the exploits of the ‘slow horses’ – personnel deemed as liabilities by the British intelligence service, who’ve been shunted sideways into a backwater and given menial work in the hope that they’ll leave of their own accord. In this outing they harbour a former spymaster and tangle with terrorists, trying to clean-up the spymaster’s history and discover what’s happened to his grandson, one of their own. Undoubtedly, the strength of the series is the colourful cast and their interaction. Herron breathes life and personality into all his characters, reveling in all their quirks, failings and back stories. And he’s also not afraid to kill them off and introduce new ones. The dialogue is sparkling, especially conversations involving the irascible, goading Jackson Lamb, the boss of Slough House. And there is much dark humour throughout. The plotting is nicely done, with a strong opening hook and plenty of intrigue, and Herron keeps the action moving towards a nice denouement. The first half of the book is truly wonderful, and while not quite sustained throughout, the read is very engaging and entertaining. Another fine addition to an excellent series.

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