Joe Country by Mick Herron

published 2019

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. 

She was
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.]

And this:
They were in a cafĂ© 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.


  1. Mick Herron really is talented, Moira, isn't he? I'm more familiar with his Oxford novels, but I agree with you about the wit and perceptiveness. He knows how to take the reader through a complex plot, too. I like his pacing and timing, as well; he has a good balance (well, at least for me) between keeping action going and developing the characters.

    1. I love the Oxford novels too - I think I'd read anything by him. He is so clever and witty.

  2. This is funny, I just 2 minutes ago purchased a copy of this and will be reading it soonish. So I read very little of this post. In this series I want to know nothing about each book until I have read it myself.

    1. Oh yes, definitely don't spoiler! After I'd read it I looked at a review somewhere else which said too much - I like to go into his books knowing nothing. I'm sure you will love this one too Tracy. And you were one of the people first encouraging me to read Mick Herron, as well as sending me the Oxford novels... I am very grateful!

  3. Louisa, Louisa, Louisa your "new white ski jacket" is a perfect mixture of substance and style. You are warm and stylish. Let no gaunt designer freezing in the streets in some slick body hugging leather jacket tell you otherwise. While they succumb to hypothermia you will be drawing admiring glances from all around who appreciate a woman who looks good and dresses warmly. Well done.

    1. Thank you Bill: finally a woman dressed practically for the weather, so of course she gets your sought-after approval!

  4. "it was like the last act of Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, only worse weather and harder to sort out." That one's a keeper.

    1. Thank you! (*takes operatic bow*) - I was very pleased with the analogy, so even more pleased it was appreciated.

  5. I bought this, because I just had to. I'm way behind with the series and maybe ought to start again at the beginning!

    1. I am torn with Herron - I have jumped around in his series, but partly because I always want to read the latest one, but also don't want to have read them all and have nothing in reserve!

  6. I have now finished the book, and I did love it of course. I haven't done a post on the last few books because I just don't know how to describe how good they are. I loved the last one two, River Cartwright is my favorite character but the whole ensemble is wonderful.

    1. I know exactly what you mean Tracy, I don't always blog on them because I don't know what to say. And it is hard to explain how different they are from anyone else's books.


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