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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