Mick Herron's Slow Horses series is a massive hit among spy book fans and our very own Erik Williams has been sent an early copy from Soho Press of the 7th Jackson Lamb novel (to be published in February 2021). In a briefing to Spybrary, Erik gives us his thoughts in this spoiler-free Slough House book review.
The slow horses are back and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy from Soho Press for review. ‘Slough House’ opens as each book has in the series previous: a tour through the rooms and features of the offices situated above the Chinese restaurant and the newsagent on Aldersgate Street.
It’s a testament to Herron’s ability that this exercise remains fresh despite its use in each book, and for the reader it’s like returning to your childhood home where a shelf filled with all your favorite books await, and you know you’re in for a treat.
This time around some slow horses are dying in unusual ways: are they paranoid or being targeted for assassination? I don’t want to give away too much, but in Shirley’s case I’d bet on a coke induced paranoia. Any takers?
The real magic of Herron is that, at a certain point, you just can’t help but to shirk all responsibility (and knowledge of an early morning wake up call) and stay up late into the night reading. It’s tough, because the language is such that you want to savor it, but at a certain point this proves fruitless as you race to the end.
The wit and humor is here as has become standard, but perhaps a bit darker than the previous books. That was always underlying though, and it’s well balanced once again. I usually hate reviewing a book before it’s released as there isn’t much you can say or conversation that can happen without giving away spoilers.
That being said I wanted to share how very good this seventh book is. It’s on par with the rest of the series, perhaps better.
Scary thought: Herron just seems to be getting better and better, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading about this crew or any new characters that he introduces.
Spybrarians who have not yet read or started the series please do so! Since I can’t give much away, I do want to talk about Jackson Lamb, head of Slough House; a real spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold.
Here’s a quote from ‘Slough House’: “From this approach, he looked like an exhausted tramp, and for a moment she wondered if he were the source of that mumbled prayer. His shoes were scuffed lumps, the hems of his trousers frayed, and his overcoat might have been stitched from the tattered sail of a pirate ship.
And she had little doubt that the odour of cigarettes and scotch would grow apparent the nearer she came, interrupting the softer smells the rain had released; little doubt, too, that for all his repose he knew damn well she was approaching, had been aware of her since she set foot on the towpath.
And for half a second she had a troubling glimpse of another Lamb inside the shell of this one; one who had posed for the image in front of her, and whose carefully composed decrepitude was a sculptor’s trick.”Was there ever a better paragraph to describe Lamb?
I really like the last sentence here. When I first started the series I had trouble digesting Lamb’s character, a fault that is of my own. He has a code that he lives by, perhaps different than most, and often missed under his vulgarity and uncleanliness, but principled primarily with one idea: you never leave a Joe behind.
The slow horses might be screw-ups but they’re Lamb’s screwups, and that counts for something.
What I had trouble with is the history of this cold warrior who, though we never see it and only hear the odd reference here and there, are led to believe that Lamb was one hell of a Joe in his time.
So how had he become such a crass, farting, messy slob?
I keep coming back to the final sentence above:
“And for half a second she had a troubling glimpse of another Lamb inside the shell of this one; one who had posed for the image in front of her, and whose carefully composed decrepitude was a sculptor’s trick.”
We see flashes of who Lamb is and what he stands for, but where does the layer of protection that he surrounds himself with (how he dresses, speaks, and acts) come from?
Does he suffer from PTSD?
Has his cynicism grown to such a point that there is just no coming back? I’ll be that guy and ask for it: Mick can you write us a Lamb prequel? Please?
But maybe that’s where the magic lies: the mystery that surrounds Lamb keeps it all ticking, and a peek at where the sausage is made may not be in our best interest.
At the end of the day a return to Spook Street with a look in on what the Slow Horses have gotten up to is worthy of your time, and like visiting an old friend that time will pass far too quickly.
Enjoy it along the way knowing that there will be more times to come. What are your thoughts on Lamb and the other characters? Who are your favorites and why? Let us know in the comments or better still in that online version of Slough House – the Spybrary Listeners Facebook Group
Love good spy books? Check out our feature-length interview with author Simon Conway on Episode 117 of the Spybrary Spy Podcast.