“You look like you could use company.”
Louisa didn’t reply.
Undeterred, the man slid onto the stool next to her. A glance in the mirror told her he was passable – maybe mid-thirties and wearing it well; wearing, too, a made-to-measure charcoal suit with an intricately patterned tie, blues and golds, loosened enough to indicate the free spirit blooming within…
She… wore a denim shirt with the sleeves rolledup, and skinny black jeans over gold sandals. The blonde streaks in her hair were recent, as was the blood-red toenail polish… She was sure she wasn’t a beautiful woman. But she was certain she looked like one. Besides, a hot August evening and chilled drinks on the bar. Anyone could look beautiful when the context allowed.
[He tries to chat her up]
Without turning to face him, she placed a hand on his wrist. It was like using a remote: his story ended, mid-air.
“I’m going to have two more of these [drinks]” she said. “If you’re still here when I’m done, I’ll go home with you. But in the meantime, shut the fuck up, okay? Not a word. That’s a deal-breaker.”
He was smarter than he’d so far suggested. Without a sound, he waved for the bartender, pointed at Louisa’s glass, and raised two fingers.
commentary: Going through a good patch: this is the fifth new-to-me author to knock me out in recent times. I loved Tana French, I loved Jed Mercurio and Lou Bernay, I loved Joseph Hone, and now I love Mick Herron. He’s been on my radar for a while – my friends Col, of the Criminal Library, and TracyK, at Bitter Tea and Mystery, both recommended him. I should have listened.
This is Herron’s new book, and I got a review copy, and probably I should have read others in the series first – it’s possible some aspects of the first two books have been spoilered. But I can live with that, though most certainly will be going on to read Slow Horses and then Dead Lions. He has also written another, earlier, series of crime novels, so what a happy chance that I love his books, and now can spend time catching up.
These are spy novels, and they deal with Slough House, a backwater of MI5, a place where operatives are sent when they have messed up, or are past their best. They are given dull jobs, and mocked by the better parts of the service. The department is run by Jackson Lamb, a truly memorable and horrible leading character: he is overweight, drinks too much, has awful personal habits, and is rude to everyone. He lights up every page he appears on, with endless clever lines – I had to stop highlighting them, there were too many moments like this, when one of his employees is praised:
“Mind like a razor” Lamb agreed. “Disposable.”The plot is a very complex farrago of inter-department warfare, interfering politicians, lost files and valuable records, bits of history that people would like forgotten, kidnappings and murders. It is mentioned that the department’s traditional enemies are ‘terrorists, rival security agencies, the Guardian’, but one could add their own colleagues.
Anyway it is terrific stuff, darting back and forth with new revelations and new people not to be trusted. What with the hideous Dame Ingrid and the climactic scenes in a store of old files, what it reminded me of most was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Dame is surely Dolores Umbridge, and the finale at the underground records vault is just like the showdown at the Hall of Prophecy in the Department of Mysteries, looking for an all-important item. The more I think about it the more comparisons can be made – the groups of friends, the back and forth of the fighting and the collateral damage. We should have been shouting ‘What you’re looking for is in Row 97!’.
It is a fabulous, unputdownable thriller, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who likes spy stories and hasn’t already discovered this author.