Tag Archives: spy thriller

#BookReview ‘Spook Street’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

Read in entirety on a train journey, Spook Street by Mick Herron is an absorbing tale of 21st century spies and terrorists combined with old-school tactics of indoctrination. The story, fourth in Herron’s ‘Slough House’ spy series, opens straight into the action with a flash mob bomb attack unsuspected by the security services. Mick HerronWhen the ‘OB’ – the elderly former-spy grandfather of slow horse employee River Cartwright – says stoats are on his trail, his claims are dismissed as advancing senility. Until a man is shot at the OB’s house and the old man disappears. This a story with a tight timeline, everything takes place within a couple of days of the first page. This brings an urgency to the danger and also makes the pages turn quickly. For Slough House fans, there are a couple of new characters to adjust to – Moira Tregorian has taken over the administrator’s desk previously occupied by Catherine Standish, and River now shares an office with the silent, hoody-wearing JK Coe. No one is sure why the latter is there, ie what he has done wrong to deserve being sent to Slough House, or the nature of his particular skill. Jackson Lamb may be a sarcastic, shabby, foul-mouthed drunk but he is also a skilled and wily operative. So when one of his team is threatened, he leaves no stone unturned.
Witty, sharp and fast-paced, this bunch of passed-over has-beens once again demonstrates that the compulsory tradecraft training required of all new recruits to the security services is never forgotten. There are less of the political jibes which were a feature of the earlier books but the darkly funny ping-pong sparring between office colleagues continues. Slough House is a place of painfully slow boring work, digital paper shuffling, of dirty coffee cups and closely-defended territories [desks], it’s a place where even the radiators work slowly. But when one of the slow horses is threatened, everyone leaps into action grabbing whatever unlikely weapons that are to hand.
The storylines are unpredictable, the characters are oddities who somehow manage to work together, and the humour is wicked. Excellent.

Click the title to read my reviews of the first three books in the Slough House series:-

If you like this, try:-
The Farm’ by Tom Rob Smith
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor
Panic Room’ by Robert Goddard

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#BookReview ‘Dead Lions’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

No tuxedos, no superheroes, no gadgets. The Slough House spy thrillers by Mick Herron feature the spies who, having messed up, have been consigned to a dead-end department [in London, not Slough, but that’s the joke]. Dead Lions is second in the series. The title is taken from a kids’ party game, ‘You have to pretend to be dead. Lie still. Do nothing.’ Mick HerronWhen elderly retired streetwalker Dickie Bow, a spy good at following people on the street and discovering their secrets, turns up dead on a train near Oxford no-one takes much notice. Except Jackson Lamb, Slough House boss and pragmatist. The bloody-minded Lamb considers whether an old Soviet cold war tactic, planting sleeper agents in a foreign country to activate at a future date, is again being used. But who by, and why? What is there to gain? Herron populates his stories with many layers and in that they are John le Carré like. Le Carré had his own alcoholic, shambling agent in Alec Leamas and Jackson Lamb, like Leamas, is good at talking his way into unlikely places, places others would never expect to find answers. He also has a cynical sense of humour, rather like Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer.
While Lamb is checking up on Dickie Bow, his team of misfits at Slough House continue to do their day jobs – boring data input and administration, checking identity profiles, chained to their desks – not very well. It doesn’t take much to distract them. IT guy and social inadequate Roderick Ho has spotted a girl he fancies and is building an unflattering fake online profile for her boyfriend in the hope she will fall for Ho instead. Except Ho hasn’t spoken to her and doesn’t know he exists. Min Harper and Louisa Guy have been seconded by Spider Webb, a ‘suit’ from Regent’s Park MI5 headquarters, to do a security audit ahead of a meeting he has with a Russian oil billionaire at ‘The Needle’. Building survey, exits and entrances, surveillance, risks and threats. Basically, they have to write a report. Webb, who keeps the purpose of the meeting a secret, will handle the exciting stuff himself.
River Cartwright, visiting his former spy grandfather ‘the OB’, shares the news about Bow’s death. The OB recounts the story of Alexander Popov, a fake Russian who MI6 regarded as an invention to spread disinformation to the West. “If Moscow Centre said ‘Look at this’, the sensible thing was to look in the opposite direction,” says the OB. Lamb’s number two Catherine Standish, former alcoholic, avoids the temptation of the bottle by considering why a bald man on a rainy station platform would leave his hat on a train. Downstairs in a pokey office, Slough House’s two newest recruits Shirley Dander and Marcus Longridge, considered by the old lags as a spy for ‘Lady’ Di Taverner, irritate each other and resent their demotions. And so, the spies worry about being spied upon.
This is a wonderful smoke and mirrors story where nothing is at it seems. It starts with a death which the mainstream spies at the Park dismiss as irrelevant, but which Lamb’s band of rejects set out to solve. Herron’s plot mixes together the ambitious intelligence officers with the misguided and often not bright slow horses, so you won’t know who is on the right track.
Different. Wonderful. Difficult to put down.

Click the title to read my review of Slow Horses, first in the Slough House series.

If you like this, try:-
Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd
The Museum of Broken Promises’ by Elizabeth Buchan
The Secrets We Kept’ by Lara Prescott

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#BookReview ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron #spy #thriller

Always on the lookout for a new thriller series to sink into, I am a late discoverer of the Jackson Lamb books by Mick Herron. Soon to be filmed as ‘Slough House’ and starring Gary Oldman as Lamb, it seemed a good time to start with book one, Slow Horses. Mick Herron

Lamb is the quixotic leader of Slough House, the place where British spies go when they have messed up. They work in a scruffy non-descript building doing boring, repetitive, desk-based jobs and dream of going on ‘ops.’ The reason for each person’s banishment is not spoken by some pact of olvidado but they are all intensely curious about each other. Very much on the outside, they are derided at the Park, the Regent’s Park MI5 headquarters run by ‘dogs’ and ‘achievers.’ The book is littered with spy language, at first confusing, but soon accepted without a second thought.

As always, the first book in a series can be slow to progress, given the need to establish characters, setting and world. And there are a lot of characters, some of whom were cardboard cut-outs with names. The action really gets moving with Hassan, a student who has been kidnapped by three white racists. His beheading is scheduled to take place live and be broadcast on the internet. Members of Slough House are pulled into an op which threatens to go badly wrong, not helped by the intense secrecy and rivalry of everyone involved. Not to mention lots of chips on shoulders. This is not a team and Lamb is not a leader, instead he sits in his top-floor office and is rarely seen.

Slow Horses features a bunch of dysfunctional characters who are unattractive and secretive and the link of the spies to Hassan’s plight is slow to appear. When it does, the story takes off as the team are yanked from their torpidity, told to use their initiative and become the spies they were trained to be. I can’t say I ended the book feeling I had access to Lamb’s character but then he is a spy and so inaccessible, opaque, contradictory. He is also irreverent, funny, disgusting, authority-hating, rude and strangely likeable. Interesting characters I want to see more of include Slough House agent River Cartwright, his grandfather the ‘OB’ who is retired and lives in Tonbridge, and slimy politician PJ who has a wonderful basement kitchen.

Next in the seven-book ‘Slough House’ series is Dead Lions which I will read soon in the expectation that Jackson Lamb’s past will be revealed.

If you like this, try:-
Panic Room’ by Robert Goddard
The Travelers’ by Chris Pavone
The Farm’ by Tom Rob Smith

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SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-57J via @SandraDanby

Book review: Exposure

Helen DunmoreThis is a powerful novel by Helen Dunmore about the effect of the Cold War on one family, thrilling yet subtle. One night in 1960, Simon Callington’s colleague falls and breaks a leg. He rings Simon and asks him to go to his flat, retrieve a document he had taken home from work, and return it to their office. And so begins a tale of official secrets, spies, cover-ups, all told through the prism of this one family, the Callingtons.

This is not a traditional spy novel, there are no car chases or killings, but it is taut with tension and threat felt within the routine domesticity of Callingtons’ home. The impact of Giles’s plea for help, and Simon’s subsequent actions, changes everyone’s lives. They are living in a time of secrets and suspicion. Lily, Simon’s wife, is a German Jew brought to England by her mother before the Second World War. As a child, Lily was taught by her mother to fit in with the English, to hide her foreignness. Her life is one of secrets and covering up, when suddenly it becomes real; her husband is accused of espionage, of passing secrets to the Russians. Lily is convinced he is innocent but her instinct is to protect her children, even though she is unsure who the enemy is.

The story unfolds quickly, alternating between Simon and Lily’s viewpoints while from Giles we learn secrets of which Lily is unaware. And all the time, the three Callington children see and listen and understand more than their mother can expect.

Excellent. Helen Dunmore is a go-to author for me, whose hardback books I buy to keep and re-read.

If you like ‘Exposure’, try these other war novels:-
‘The Lie’ by Helen Dunmore
‘The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brooke
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall

‘Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore [UK: Hutchinson] Buy now

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