[Claude Whelan, head of MI5, has been visiting an up-and-coming politician, Dennis Gimball]
Gimball caught him as he was retrieving his raincoat, and barred his way, looking as if he hoped there were something that might be said or done to render the last few minutes impotent. But hope was all it was. So it was almost with pity that Whelan said, ‘I lied, by the way. I do that sometimes, for effect,’ and reached into the pocket of his coat and took out an envelope. It was creamy white, the kind birthday cards arrive in, and wasn’t sealed, and when he held it slantwise a single photograph slid out, face up. It showed Dennis Gimball in a happy mood. He was on a small stage, and appeared to be singing – karaoke, probably – dressed in what Claire, Whelan’s wife, would almost certainly identify as a flapper dress. It brought to mind The Great Gatsby, anyway.
[Later, thinking about the photo] Gimball thought: Nobody could look at this photo, surely, and not see past the ill-applied blusher (OK that had been unwise) to the joy behind. Yes, he was wearing a dress; yes elbow-length gloves – but so what? Was he hurting anyone?
commentary: This is the fifth of Mick Herron’s superb Jackson Lamb thrillers – two of them have featured on the blog, Spook Street and Real Tigers, and those posts explain more about the series and why I love it. So all there is to do now is to say that this one is well up to standard, and that Lamb is more hideous than ever. The plot is complicated (as always) and fortunately I don’t have to go into it too much, as that might be a spoiler. There are terrorists threatening domestic security, and the Slough House team – the slow horses - try their unofficial best to foil them, with very mixed results. As ever, the coverup at the end is going to be as big a deal as the various disastrous events…
So now, as a reminder of what a good writer Herron is, and how funny, I will list some of my favourite quotes (I highlighted dozens of them):
Like Ronnie and Reggie Kray before it, the Barbican had overcomethe drawback of being a brutal piece of shit to achieve iconic status.
[of an elderly man who has dementia] Every spook’s dream was to throw off all pursuers, and know himself unwatched. He was fast approaching that space; somewhere unknowable, unvisited, untagged by hostile eyes.
[The slow horses are trying to forestall some trouble] ‘If either of those pols are actually at risk, they should be under Protection Orders, not being surreptitiously babysat by the Teletubbies.’
It was difficult arguing a point when you had no reliable information or accurate knowledge. Unless you were online, obviously.
‘The winner’s the one with the pokerest face.’
‘It’s two in the morning, what do you want, Will Self?’
There’s never a wide wardrobe to pick from in Herron’s books (my only complaint), though I did like this description of a small meeting at Slough House:
It looked like a poetry reading, though, inasmuch as there were few people there, and none of them stylishly dressed. Well, Flyte was an exception, though River suspected she’d make a plaid skirt and woollen tights look good. As it was, she wore a dark business suit. Her hair was tied back, her eyes were unamused.- the picture is one I chose for Emma Flyte for a post on a previous book.
And poor Dennis and his worries seemed to suggest we get out Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot.