Spook Street by Mick Herron

published 2017
[Jackson Lamb, the head of Slough House, has been called to a murder scene.]

Spook Street
In the hallway a technician was dusting the bannister for fingerprints, looking every inch an extra in a TV show. Star power was provided by the blonde in the black suit talking on her mobile. Her hair was bound in a severe back-knot, but if that was an attempt to dim her wattage, it failed; she could have painted a beard on and still sucked up all the local attention. 

When she saw Lamb she finished her conversation and slotted her phone into her jacket pocket… Her eyes were blue, her manner all business. But she didn’t offer her hand.

‘You’re Lamb,’ she told him.

‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘This time of night I’m plagued by doubts.’

‘We’ve not met. I’m Emma Flyte.’

‘I guessed.’

commentary: Mick Herron’s Slow Horses books burst into my consciousness late last year with Real Tigers, the third in the series: this one is the fourth, just out now.

And yes, it is just as good: funny, full of memorable characters, some great situations, and an all-too convincing picture of the security services in modern-day England. As when a security breach in 1992 is mentioned:
‘Ninetytwo?’ This was the defence minister. ‘That’s ancient history.’
Whelan suspected he was trying to remember who’d been in government then; whether this was something that could be passed off on the other party.
I even forgive Herron for the character called The Moira – ‘they’d taken to calling her [that]; one of those unplanned habits that foster relationships… ‘Moira, anyway’ she said. ‘That’s an oldies’ name. Your aunt’s called Moira.’ She’s later described as ‘Grendel’s mother through there’.

The plot is labrynthine, clever and scarey, but as ever it’s the one-liners that amuse. Shirley has a new hairdo:
‘It makes me look like a young Mia Farrow’ she said, ‘if she’d been dark instead of blonde.’
‘Yeah’ said Lamb ‘And if she’d eaten Frank Sinatra instead of marrying him.’
Jackson Lamb, a towering figure, one of the finest creations in modern literature, always gets the best lines.
‘You’re not having a panic attack are you?’ Lamb asked kindly.
‘Does the thought of having one frighten you?’

Talking of a colleague:
‘We speak on the phone, we sometimes meet up. Every now and then she tries to have me killed.’ He shifted a buttock. ‘I can’t remember if I’ve ever been married, but it sounds like that’s what it’s like.’
Speaking of one character’s ambitions:
‘[He was worried about an issue] that might scupper his chances of getting to be First Desk, right? These days they appear on Newsnight, reviewing Bond films. But back then, the whole secrecy thing was more of an issue.’
‘He never wanted to be First Desk.’
‘Uh-huh. And Buzz Lightyear never wanted to be first man on the Moon.’
‘I don’t think you mean Lightyear.’

I would read about Jackson and his team even if there was no plot, but I did foresee some of the twists in this one – which I didn’t in the first couple of the books. Herron specializes in making the reader feel clever for guessing, then adding another twirl to take you by surprise. There was less of that this time. (Or maybe I’m getting cleverer? – Nah.)
But truly this is a marvellous series, and anyone who likes spy stories, or being entertained, will enjoy them.


  1. Another Herron fan! I just finished the second last week (a long time in the reading). I still have Tigers and this one to look forward to!

    1. They are definitely where our tastes meet - I love them. I am rationing them -I should have caught up before reading this one, but am saving one for later...

    2. There's a 100-odd page novella entitled THE LIST which according to Fantastic Fiction sits in the "Slough House" series, though from the brief description I don't recognise the character mentioned. He has another "MI5" book out 2018 - This is What Happened." Something to look forward to!

    3. Oh intriguing! If you track it down let me know, and I'll do the same.

  2. Oh, this does sound great, Moira! I do like clever dialogue, and sometimes, snappy one-liners can just make a book that much better. It sounds as though the wit here is just as good as the plot.

    1. Margot, I'm sure you would enjoy these - great plots, AND great entertainment value. There's not that many authors who manage both to such a high level.

  3. Since I haven't even read Real Tigers yet I just scanned through the post, but it is good to know that this series continues to be fun and entertaining and worth expending money for.

    1. Yes, and I'm sure you will enjoy. You were the one of the people (along with Col) whose recommendation made me read him.

  4. "‘That’s an oldies’ name. Your aunt’s called Moira.’ She’s later described as ‘Grendel’s mother through there’."

    Ha! The English Department style sheet at UCLA used a paper called "Towards a Genealogy of Grendel's Mother" as an example, so I ever since been fond her use in other writings.

    Love the dialogue examples here. I'm a nut for snappy patter.

    1. The dialogue is absolutely terrific in these books.
      What I love is that you don't have to know exactly who Grendel's mother is to get the insult and find it funny. (naturally I do know - partly because of once editing a piece by someone who plainly didn't know...) I intend to start using it in my own conversation from now on.

  5. I won all four in a competition - I know, great, eh? - and must read them from the start. Everyone whose read them raves about them.

    1. O.k. I will...you've twisted my arm. :-)

    2. I cannot discourage anyone from at least trying these. They might not be to all tastes, but I think Linda is VERY lucky to have been given them!


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