Mick Herron has carved out a unique niche in espionage thrillers with his Slough House series. To fans of spy stories, the author’s pervasive themes of “half of the future lies in the past” and “all joes go to the well, slyly whoring themselves for the coin of their choice” are familiar ground. But Herron sets himself apart with his blend of pithily cynical commentary, tongue in cheek tone, lyrical descriptions, and, of course, his characters. The ramshackle crew of second-rate Secret Service employees, which the Service fervently wishes would just quietly go away, have been stabled at Slough House. That these “slow horses” steadfastly refuse to quit is definitely not testament to their half drunken, wreathed in cigarette smoke, but oh-so-wily leader, the inimitable Jackson Lamb.
“To be assigned to Slough House meant you’d committed some egregious error; had endangered lives, or caused embarrassment, or invited the wrong sort of attention, all of which were among the seven deadlies of Spook Street.”
In Bad Actors, the eighth installment, London has barely emerged from Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. During the course of one week, the Prime Minister bleats his vision that post-Brexit UK will evolve into a “scientific/ cultural / [fill-in-the-blank] powerhouse, its trillion-pound tech / film / [fill-in-the-blank] industry the envy of the world.” Meanwhile Anthony Sparrow, the PM’s special adviser, is not so quietly pulling the strings and he satisfies the
“Whitehall edict that it’s those you have most contempt for who do the most damage.”
A member of a political think tank, Dr. Sophia De Greer is a superforecaster upon whom Sparrow relies. But she’s been AWOL for several days. Sparrow points fingers at Diana Taverner, the First Desk of the Secret Service. Because Sparrow’s ultimate objective is to collect all branches of government under his direct control by fair means or foul.
“Every national panic permitted a government to lace its boots tighter, which was why every government needed a visionary to sow chaos.
…it was an education itself, exploring the depths of other people’s ignorance and gullibility.”
Diana Taverner had waited jealousy in the background when Ingrid Tearney and then Claude Whelan had been elevated to the rank of First Desk. Whether Taverner really has the mettle to survive, never mind flourish, as the leader of the Secret Service has been questioned in previous installments. Perhaps Lamb will again play a supporting role in the bad drama in which Taverner is mired.
“whatever role you choose, you reach the end of the drama…
The triumph lies in making the choice, rather than accepting the part you’re given.”
I had binged read every Slough House novel and its offshoots when I had found Herron last year. To say that I had been impatiently waiting for Bad Actors would be an understatement as the preceding novel had left fates dangling. Yes, my wait had been rewarded even as Herron teased and presented sleight of hands. To those new to the Slough House series, Herron had written Bad Actors as a standalone but a new reader would be challenged to fully appreciate the recurring characters’ motivations and sentiments without knowledge of the earlier books. But wherever you begin, don’t deprive yourself the pleasure of this quirky and clever satire.