The List – Mick Herron

This is another standalone (short) spy novel by Mick Herron, set in the same backdrop as the terrific Jackson Lamb series, but telling a separate story, though with some passing references to the characters in that series.

John Bachelor works for MI5 and is the handler of Dieter Hess, an old foreign spy. When Hess dies, Bachelor finds out that the old spy had set up a secret bank account. In the world of espionage, that’s a big red warning sign, suggesting the spy was a double agent. So, Bachelor – who is in serious trouble for failing to spot the secret bank account when Hess was alive – has to dig around and find out what the truth is. Of course, this being a spy story, all is not what it seems, and the investigation has to make its way through some murky passages.

This is a short, simply told and effective cracker of a tale, well worthy of your reading time. Herron lights the fuse and it slowly burns away, drawing the reader in.

The characters are beautifully described, and the plot exquisitely told. The world of espionage seems all too real.

In short, if you are a fan of spy fiction, this is a must. If you are not a fan of spy fiction, this may change your mind.

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Nobody Walks – Mick Herron

This is a sort of spook novel, with some of the characters of the author’s wonderful Jackson Lamb series, but it is intended to stand on its own with no prior reading experience required to enjoy it.

Bettany used to be a spook. He’s dropped out, doing a crappy job in France, when he is told of his son’s death in London. Bettany goes back to investigate and thus flows the action.

Inevitably with this author, there are twists and turns. Things are often not what they seem. Bettany comes into contact with drug dealers and the security services, the relationship between them being somewhat murky. Bettany is not without resources from his past, and he endeavors to leverage them as much as possible in the quest to get to the truth.

The atmosphere around Bettany is dark and oppressive. You get the impression he would shy away from a day sunbathing at the beach, preferring to lurk in a dark alley. But his spirit – certainly in his quest for his son – burns bright and keeps him going where lesser mortals would have backed down.

This is a grim tale of separation, love, betrayal, and secrets. The background is all too believable, and Bettany an intriguing character. The plot is a bit wobbly, but manages to be just about credible. As always, I knew that the disappointment felt on reaching the end meant I had enjoyed it a great deal. Recommended.

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Down Cemetery Road – Mick Herron

Mick Herron wrote the Slow Horses series of books, featuring spy master Jackson Lamb. Reading this precursor, you can see where he got the inspiration from.

Think suburbia. Think domestic normality. Think, home sweet home. It’s all about to end.

A businessman has some people for dinner, and his wife (Sarah) has to play the faithful hostess to support her husband’s drive for more business. The guests do not mix well. Verbal blows are exchanged with only the explosive demolition of a nearby house preventing actual fisticuffs. Sarah becomes obsessed with the little girl who lived in the bombed house, and that sets her off on a terrible trail. She tries to find the girl herself, recruits a private eye, and things go from bad to worse. Sarah is digging herself deeper into a matter of national security, though little does she know it.

This is not a read for those who like to see only the sunny side of things. This is for those who will not shy away from good men becoming corrupted, and bad men becoming successful and powerful.

Although the tale loses its way on a couple of occasions, overall it’s a suspense filled tale, with plenty intriguing characters, action, violence, and food for thought. Sarah’s journey from bored housewife to adventurer is not quite credible, but maybe that’s my cynicism in full flow.

The story itself is not bad, though there were a few loose ends, and the ending seemed to be there only because the author had written enough words to allow him to call a halt. To put it another way, I’m interested enough to want to read the next part. But for now, I’ll withhold judgement.

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London Rules – Mick Herron

Number five in the excellent Jackson Lamb spy series, this novel keeps up the quality and panache of those that came before, and is a terrific read.

The story this time around involves a terrorist plot that seems to have the authorities stumped. In addition, there’s a suspicion that the intelligence branch know more than they are letting on. Can Claude Whelan, top spook, find the best solution? He has to deal with a loose cannon politician and his troublesome media darling wife, and Whelan’s own number two is on his shoulder ready to swoop on any misstep.

So far as the Slow Horses are concerned, one of their number (Roderick Ho) seems to be the target of a less than deadly killer, the rest of the crew think their latest recruit is a psychotic individual prone to acts of murder, and Jackson Lamb has his hands full keeping his team intact, and their participation in the game free from Whelan’s meddling.

If I have a criticism, it is the underlying formulaic structure of the plot. I knew early on how this would work out. [Spoiler alert!] Since there are more Jackson Lamb books, you are curious to know how he survives, not whether he does.

That apart, simply great fun. There are moments of comedy gold here, with some dialog that deserves the big screen treatment. To cut to the chase, this is highly recommended. But do start at the first book and read them in order.

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Spook Street – Mick Herron

Fourth in the generally excellent Slow Horses series (see here for reviews of 1-3), this is the weakest of the novels so far, primarily because it relies on too high a level of suspension of disbelief. But, if you can get over that, you will be rewarded with being able to enjoy the author’s wonderful cocktail of strong characters, snappy dialogues, and plain good writing.

This book begins with a terrorist atrocity in Britain. At the same time, current spook River Cartwright’s grandfather – an old spook – is rapidly descending into the hell of dementia.  The author does an amazing job – assuming you buy the central idea – of tying these threads together.

There are turns, twists, surprises, and pathos aplenty.

In short, if you have not read these books, start at the beginning. And do it now!

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