Bad Actors

By Mick Herron
  • Crime
  • Fiction
  • Mystery
  • Thriller

This is the 8th instalment of the Slough House series so Herron could be forgiven for resting on his laurels somewhat, but instead he continues to refine his art, seamlessly blending the sublime with the ridiculous, the poetic with the utterly base. His hero, Jackson Lamb, is as revolting as ever, and the motley collection of disgraced spies who make up this remedial branch of MI5 as variously psychotic and inept as in past episodes. In fact it feels like the Falstaffian Lamb has taken on a life of his own, with Herron admitting he’s become unstoppable, saying “I look back at some of those lines and think: My God, did I write that? My mother reads this stuff!”

Something I’ve long wondered about; how authentic is all the spy stuff? Not very, apparently, which when you think about it, makes sense – who would you ask? The spy genre has given Herron permission to create an imaginary world but one that’s grafted onto a very recognizable modern UK, complete with oddly familiar characters such as the ex-public schoolboy politician with the carefully cultivated buffoonish image that doesn’t quite hide his ruthless ambition. And although the plotting is as terrific as ever – only Herron could conceive of having one of his delinquent spies (the coke-fuelled Shirley Dander) engage in a fight to the death with an Italian “Ultra” football thug in a carwash armed only with a plastic spork – it’s the interaction between the characters that populate Regent’s Park and Slough House that he seems most concerned with.

He continues to revel in the antagonistic but mutually beneficial relationship between the icily regal Diane Taverner, First Desk at Regent’s Park, and the gratuitously foul Lamb. Diane must summon up all her reserves of patience when dealing with Lamb (like a kindergarten teacher whose charges think “bum!” is the height of sophisticated repartee) as he invariably saves her bacon, often as a side effect of some nefarious scheme of his own. Their conversations are a joy, as are the pass-ag exchanges between the “slow horses”, usually regarding kettle-use or lunch-stealing, typical of office life the world over but infinitely funnier.

A few years ago I reviewed the first book in the series and predicted it would one day be adapted for the small screen. And guess what? “Slow Horses” is now on its second season on Apple+ with Gary Oldman playing Lamb and Kristin Scott Thomas playing Taverner. They didn’t listen to my recommendation to give the role of River Cartwright to Tom Hiddleston but what perfect casting – though possibly slightly insulting to Oldman to say so!

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