Saturday, February 20, 2016

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

I was intrigued with the premise of this book after reading about it recently on Rob Kitchin's blog, The View from the Blue House. Rob writes admirably concise, fair and nonspoilerish reviews of crime fiction and you should check out his blog if you need some recs, as he covers a wide swath of territory.

"Slow horses" is what the book's  elite spy world calls fellow spies who have been put out to pasture but refuse to quite die. Usually their banishment is due to some screw-up that can't be swept under the carpet. The case of River Cartwright, who leads us into this world, is given as an opening example. Then we're introduced to Slough House, the refuge for these ne'er-do-wells, and the punning source of the failed spies' nickname. Let's  just say the place has no resemblance to MI-5 headquarters and that's putting it mildly.

I like Herron's description of the particular hell that these people, once members of the best and the brightest, find themselves in. Their actual jobs are no more boring than a lot of people's work is, but it's the haunting sense of what could have been but for one slip, one lapse, one indiscretion that makes this a purgatory for them. As in Dante's description of hell, there is no camaraderie, as everyone is both too preoccupied with themselves and too aware of their neighbors' failures to reach out to each other. However, a kidnapping is about to change all that.

The subsequent story is nice and twisty, and although some of the twists can be foreseen once you get the way Herron's plotting works, I still found a few clever surprises. And the author is successful in keeping a large cast of characters distinguishable from each other and giving them all their own story arc and the story unfolds nicely.

As I may have mentioned a time or two before, I do love me a good London novel, and as Slow Horses takes place almost entirely within its environs, it fit the bill for me on that level too.

Slow Horses is the first of a series and I happen to have a galley of the second, Dead Lions, which I'd picked up just because of the Soho imprint.

Lucky me. 

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