This is What Happened by Mick Herron

published 2018

This is what happened 2This is what happened

She liked the sweatshirt best. It hadn’t really been meant as a gift, he had simply forgotten to take it away with him, and he hadn’t understood at first when she explained that it was now hers. But he’d got the message eventually. It looked better on Maggie anyway.

Besides, such appropriation rendered the sweatshirt a boyfriend garment, and thus far removed from the hand-me-downs of her pre-teen years, one of the inescapable indignities that being a younger sibling involved. In time, she’d reappraised Meredith’s taste, and frequently borrowed items without permission. A dark-blue jacket with a zip she’d managed to break, to her sister’s fury. A yellow scarf, which she’d so successfully pilfered it had become hers.

commentary: It’s difficult to write about This is What Happened, for two reasons. One is that it is a novella  [*** after due consideration, and a comment below, I have re-calibrated: it is not a novella, it is a short novel. All else still applies though], and it has a lot of tensions and changes and twists in it – the shorter the book, the less I feel able to reveal about it. So I am going to go with the publishers' description: 
Something's happened.
A lot of things have happened.
If she could turn back time, she wondered how far she would go.
Twenty-six-year-old Maggie Barnes is someone you would never look at twice. Living alone in a month-to-month sublet in London, with no family but an estranged sister, no boyfriend or partner, and not much in the way of friends, Maggie is just the kind of person who could vanish from the face of the earth without anyone taking notice. 
Or just the kind of person MI5 needs to thwart an international plot that puts all of Britain at risk.
Now one young woman has the chance to be a hero - if she can think quickly enough to stay alive.
The second is that it’s by Mick Herron, so yes of course it has tension and changes and twists in it – but it is not part of his Jackson Lamb/Slough House series: it is a standalone. If it was by a different author I would be saying how clever and involving it was, sad and atmospheric and rather melancholic about the way London life can be for some people. But because of the author there are rogue thoughts from Satan involving missing the hideous Jackson Lamb, and wishing to be amused and entertained: the Slough House books are hilariously witty, while this one is not aiming at being funny.

So – if you are a Mick Herron fan you just have to take it as a filler till the next Slough House book comes. If you are not, then I can recommend it as a short sharp read. There are points where you will feel you are well ahead of the characters, but Herron always makes the next move unpredictable, and keeps you guessing. And always writes extremely well.

The yellow scarf is going to turn out to be important…

A 'boyfriend garment' was originally something a woman borrowed ('or stole') from her boyfriend, so it would look maybe oversized and loose on her, but sweetly advertising that she had a boyfriend. (Think of a woman coming down in a shared house wearing a man's shirt and little else, showing that she stayed the night with him.)

The fashion world then took this up, and various items, new and wholly designed for women, are described as a 'boyfriend shirt' or 'boyfriend jumper' - the implication is that they have been carefully designed to be flattering, but to have a look as if pinched from the nearest male. So typically loose and not figure-hugging - a big long cardigan is often described as a boyfriend cardigan, even though it is not a look that most men would wear. 

There are several other Mick Herron books on the blog.


  1. This does sound intriguing, Moira. And now i want to know about the yellow scarf! I like those stories where the past catches up to the present (e.g. why are the sisters estranged?) Hmm....interesting!

    1. He does a great job of making you long to know what is happening, and what will happen! (hence the title I suppose). And we can't ask for anything more in a writer can we?

  2. I had not realized that this was a novella; listed on Amazon in the US as not available until December but listing the number of pages as nearly 300. But I am so far behind... haven't read Real Tigers yet, and I have Nobody Walks but haven't read that one either. And still have two of the Zoe Boehm series, which I like as well as the Slough House series. So plenty to read before I get to this one. I do love Mick Herron's writing.

    1. Do you know, I think I am wrong, it is longer than a novella, I got the idea into my head that it was, but on reading your comment I went and checked. It is on my Kindle, so always harder to judge, but I think it is a shortish novel rather than a novella. Will amend above.
      I really want to read a Zoe Boehm book, I am looking forward to trying one.

  3. Spooky I bought this the other week - to be picked up at some indeterminate point in the future! I do like his books though, I'm scratching my head as to why I delay reading them.

    1. Aha! Will be interested to hear what you make of it. I know what you mean though - with some authors, I do almost delay reading them because I don't want to run out of their books. As I just said to Tracy, I want to read his other series too.


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