Louisa, who lived out on the fringes, never came into the city at the weekend, except on those few occasions which demanded it – a date, shopping, being bored; call it every other Saturday at most – and yet here she was, Soho, like a mindless tourist; one among a million, even in this cheerless weather.
wearing her new white ski jacket, and if it didn’t do much for her figure she’d been glad of it walking from the Tube, with London’s air a refrigerated warning. There’d been talk on the radio of a Siberian front on the way. They’d made it sound like a wartime manoeuvre.
commentary: There’s going to be a lot more mention of the white jacket, and of the wintry weather, throughout this, the 6th of Mick Herron’s Slough House/Slow Horses/Jackson Lamb spy thrillers.
All the regular characters, the joes of the title, are here – well, those who survived previous books. They are doing their normal boring jobs:
Shirley’s daylight hours were now taken up by cross-referring a register of TV licence defaulters against lists of those who’d failed to pay parking fines, child support and a million other minor offences.
‘Wouldn’t it be quicker to just take the population of Liverpool and start from there?’[As someone who was born and lived in Liverpool, I shouted with laughter at this.]
An early setpiece is the funeral of River Cartwright’s grandfather David, known as the OB. The action kicks off nicely from there.
Louisa starts looking for a missing teenager, for personal reasons, and her colleagues (including Emma Flyte from a previous book) are dragged in too, and most of them end up in an extended final section running and hiding and attacking people in a blizzard-hit rural part of Wales.
I couldn’t really tell what was going on in these snow-filled scenes, or picture where all the characters were in relation to each other (it was like the last act of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, only worse weather and harder to sort out.) But that was fine, I could just wait it out to see who ended up where, and enjoy the dialogue:
‘Wales, though. It’s not a huge place.’
‘It’s exactly the size it is, isn’t it?’ Shirley said. ‘Reports are always saying something’s “an area the size of Wales”. And that’s exactly the size Wales is.’
This was met with a short silence.
Lamb said, ‘and to think I had you down as incapable of coherent thought.’And the glancing political perceptions:
If you want your enemy to fail, give him something important to do. This strategy [was] known for obscure historical reasons as “The Boris”.[The book is in fact full of political perceptions, perhaps even more so than the others in the series, with a lot of trailing of a future plotline.]
They were in a café off Fleet street, at Judd’s suggestion – he wanted somewhere with no danger of journalists being present.So if you know this series then you don’t need me to tell you to read this one. It is - of course, predictably – excellent. If you haven’t, start at the first book. Mick Herron is one of the best contemporary writers, and these are the best spy thrillers out there.
One final diversion: River meets up with his mother Isobel, (‘there were times he could admire his mother’s self-absorption: it was a rare example of her showing total commitment’) at the funeral. Then we see them through the eyes of another key character:
Isobel had aged gracefully, presumably at the same speed as himself, though she’d taken care to slow down on the curves, or had some first-class mechanics hammering the dings out every other lap. As for River he was still young enough to take the knocks and stay standing or get back on his feet afterwards. A nice trick, soon lost. River would learn.-which reminded me very much of the wonderful Frank O’Hara poem Animals:
Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth
it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners
the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water
I wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days
-which featured on the blog when it gave its name to the book Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, which has just been made into a film.