Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review of London Rules by Mick Herron (2018, John Murray)

A terrorist attack in Derbyshire and a pro-Brexit MP with designs on his job and a tabloid journalist for a wife has the Prime Minister on his toes, and by association Claude Whelan the new head of the Secret Service. Whelan will soon have more trouble to deal with, including a Muslim MP who is acting strangely and his own service being implicated in the attack. Slough House, the dumping ground for washed up spies, is never far from the Secret Services woes and one its occupants soon find themselves the target of a murder and the team chasing terrorists despite them supposedly being locked-down. Slough House might be home to the slow horses - capable of making any situation worse - but they still play with London Rules.

London Rules is the fifth book in the excellent Slow Horses series about the exploits of a bunch of has-been spies, each with a personal problem, who’ve been sent to Slough House to see out the rest of their career. In this outing, the gang of misfits are trying to get to the bottom of why Roddy Ho, a narcissist hacker with a personality bypass, is the target of a murder attempt and tangling with a terrorist cell enacting an old British secret service plan designed to destabilise a country. As usual, they are only partially equipped to deal with the threat and quickly make matters worse by accidentally killing a person they’re trying to protect. What makes the book shine are Herron’s cast of dysfunctional characters and their interactions that mix farce, slapstick and politically incorrectness. The dialogue often sparkles, especially any conversation involving Jackson Lamb, a man who treats everyone with disdain and condescension; a man who thrives mansplaining mansplaining and is comfortable telling cripple jokes to a disabled woman. The plot thread involving the terrorists would have worked better I felt if they weren’t more incompetent than the slow horses: the only thing that kept them from being caught quickly was luck, momentum and picking non-obvious targets. In a way the plot almost felt like a foil designed to enable Herron to spin some farce and create character situations, and poke fun at politics and the establishment, rather than being the central concern. Nonetheless, another clever, witty addition to a must-read series that is crying out for adaptation for television.

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