‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron

Slow Horses: Jackson Lamb Thriller 1 by [Herron, Mick]

I’ve been meaning to get around to this novel for the longest time. My brother recommended it to me. We are both John Le Carré and Gavin Lyall fans. Since 2015, when this first Jackson Lamb spy thriller came out, Herron has written another five. So that’s now a nice juicy series of six to enjoy.

Of course, Herron is compared to Le Carré. He is, for me, a closer rival than, for example, Charles Cumming (who is regularly spoken of as Le Carré’s inheritor). I’ve read three of Cumming’s and been underwhelmed by each. Sadly, Gavin Lyall (who died in 2003) is not so much remembered now: he wrote some delicious spy thrillers. His later work – a trilogy of novels set in Europe in the years immediately before the first World War – I found both gripping and illuminating.

But back to Herron: he does complexity well and he employs plenty of humour. His point of view is as some kind of insouciant omniscient devil who just wants to watch the world burn: nice.

Slough House (which morphs into the title of this first instalment: Slow Horse(s)) is where they send spies who have seriously stuffed up, but who they don’t want to (or can’t) sack, pay severance to, or have an unfair dismissal hearing for; or who have been stabbed in the back by colleagues. So some of those mouldering in Slough House doing mind-numbing busy work deserve to be there and some do not. It is an interesting part of the game in this first book to try and work out who deserves to be there and who doesn’t.

Slough House is under the surly leadership of Jackson Lamb, who used to be one of the best in the business. He is still a damned good spook. And one of the most convincing slobs I have ever come across in fiction. What can he have done to get stuck in Slough House? Could it be something to do with personal hygiene? It is not revealed in this book. I suspect he is one of those stabbed in the back – although possibly for good reason. The six books together are known as ‘the Jackson Lamb series’ so Lamb is the protagonist who carries the novels. That kind of weight is not really in evidence in this first one. Presumably his substantial and brooding presence is felt more later in the series.

This book sets up the characters of the Slow Horses at length. Another reviewer describes the book as a slow burner and because of all the scene- and character-setting I think this is right. You’ll have to wait until I’ve gotten around to book #2 to see if that continues or whether we plunge straight into plot next time. I have my fingers firmly crossed for less exposition and more turny-twisty plotting. Because the turny-twisty plotting, when it arrives, is very good indeed. The thing that makes this less than a 5* book for me is that most of the good turny-twisty plotting (and the presence of Jackson Lamb) comes in the final quarter of the novel.


Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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