21 May 2018
“Eight months of anger f*ing management sessions, and this evening she’d officially be declared anger free. It had been hinted she might even get a badge. That could be a problem – if anyone stuck a badge on her, they’d be carrying their teeth home in a hankie. . .”
More of Herron’s trademark humour, off-beat characters, and action in and around London. Plus his wonderful mood setting where the weather and the time of day become their own characters. I love this part of his style.
This fifth book in the series isn’t dependent on the first four, but readers who haven’t met Jackson Lamb or the others before are less likely to enjoy the interaction between characters. Lamb is unique. Often drunk, living in a cloud of cigarette smoke, and more of a bear than a lamb.
“The smoke from his cigarette was a blue-grey spiral, but broke into rags when it hit the ceiling. Still daylight outside, barely evening yet, but Lamb punched his own clock, and won on a technical knockout.”
Roddy Ho, who self-identifies as “The Rodster”, is the pivot-point for this instalment. He is an IT whiz who thinks he’s a lady-killing Mr Cool because he has a "girlfriend", Kim, whom we met in Spook Street. We know she’s been using him for wiping credit card debt and such while holding out the promise of a loving relationship eventually– just not “yet”. This time, we meet her people.
The book opens with an attack in a village that sounds like it’s in the middle of a war zone. Herron moves us between the attackers, the Slough House crew, the real spy headquarters at Regent’s Park, and politicians.
I found this slow going for a while and lost interest in some of the characters, but as the plot thickened (sorry, I’m not as inventive as Herron), I enjoyed it like the others in the series. I particularly enjoyed seeing more of J.K. Coe, the deadly newcomer to Slough House.
“And as for J. K. Coe, Catherine recognised a hand grenade when she saw one. And she didn’t think his pin was fitted too tight.”
In Spook Street, Coe’s was the final act in a
“. . . series of events so painfully compromising to the intelligence services as a whole that – as Lamb had observed – it had put the ‘us’ in ‘clusterf***’, leaving Regent’s Park with little choice but to lay a huge carpet over everything and sweep Slough House under it.”
Poor old Regent’s Park isn’t going to be any happier about this series of events either, especially as the finger of suspicion begins pointing in their direction. But Lamb warns against alerting them yet.
“‘Yeah, but before committing Hare Krishna, let’s see if we’ve got wiggle room when it comes to assigning blame.’
Lamb is such an unseemly character (grubby slob, often drunk, bitingly insulting), that the higher-ups wish they could get rid of him. But they can’t,
“Because I have so much dirt on you, I’ve started an allotment.’
The question is asked.
“‘Is he like this all the time?’
‘I expect so,’ said Catherine. ‘I don’t work weekends.’”
I can answer that. YES. Yes, he is. But he’s smart and clever and surprisingly nimble when the need arises. An unlikely saviour, if ever there was one.
This latest book speaks of Brexit and Trump, and we have politicians in the line of fire, but the focus of the plot is finding the person or group who perpetrated the attack on the village. When another event occurs, the usual hermit-like J.K. Coe breaks his silence with a suggested connection which means there’s a mole.
By the end, I was ready for the next book, and judging by a sudden brief phone call to River Cartwright (the main character in previous books), there must be one in the works. I hope so.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette – John Murray for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted.
P.S. For anyone who knows London, you might enjoy this lengthy excerpt. I did.
“Noon comes with bells on, because this is London, and London is a city of bells. From its heart to its ragged edges, they bisect the day in a jangle of sound: peals and tinkles and deep bass knells. They ring from steeples and clock towers, from churches and town halls, in an overlapping celebration of the everyday fact that time passes. In the heat, it might almost be possible to see their sound travel, carried on the haze that shimmers in the middle distance. And in time with the bells, other devices strike up: clocks on corners and hanging over jewellers’ premises strike the hour in their staggered fashion, all a little behind or a little ahead of the sun, but always – always – there’s one single moment when all chime together. Or that’s what it would be nice to pretend; that twice a day, around midnight and noon, the city speaks as one. But even if it were true, it would be over in a moment, and the normal cacophony re-establish itself; voices arguing, chiding, consoling and cracking jokes; begging for ice cream, for lovers to return; offering change and seeking endorsement; stumbling over each other in a constant chorus of joy and complaint, bliss and treachery; of big griefs, small sorrows, and unexpected delight. Every day is like this one: both familiar and unique. Today, like tomorrow, is always different, and always the same.”