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Spook Street by Mick Herron

Spook Street

by Mick Herron

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What happens to spies when they get old? This is the intriguing question posed by Spook Street. Former senior spy David Cartwright is showing the early signs of dementia. He wanders round his village in his pyjamas, convinced that the flickering streetlights are a code, and that the local shopkeeper’s small talk is an interrogation. What might he reveal in his confusion?

His grandson, River Cartwright, is one of the misfit spies exiled to Slough House under Jackson Lamb (the so-called Slow Horses). He is concerned about his grandfather and wants to take care of him before the Service move to ‘take care of him’ in another sense.

At first I found it hard to orient myself in the present day, particularly as this was my introduction to Slough House. I’m a big fan of John le Carré and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was back in the world of Smiley. The grotty building, the sluggish central heating, the air of ennui, the animal terminology (stoats and horses rather than moles) – Even the cadence of the prose echoes le Carré. It’s only the references to technology that hurtle you back to the present day.

But this is more than Smiley with iPods. I soon warmed (if that’s the right word) to the Slow Horses. They are flawed but clever, unlikeable to varying degrees (likeability is, in my view, a much-overrated quality in a fictional character) but always interesting.

One way Spook Street differs from le Carré is that no one here seems to much believe in anything. In Smiley’s world, people are motivated at times by principle, even if they’re not the principles they’re supposed to have. Here the ambitious are motivated by their own power and status, while the employees at Slough House seem to have enough to do just to make it through the day.

A lot of contemporary spy fiction, and crime in general, seems to be high in concept and low in substance. Fast food for the eyeball, with clockwork characters marching through the obligatory twists. This is the opposite. The plot is the plot, and is probably best not examined too closely, but the prose is rich and satisfying and funny in the darkness and bleak in the light. There are complex, grown up characters and a world in Slough House that may owe a debt to le Carré but clearly has a life of its own. A world that lives and breathes and which you are sure is still there when you have stopped reading. I’ll definitely be back.
I received a copy of Spook Street from the publisher via Netgalley.
This review first appeared on my blog https://katevane.wordpress.com/ ( )
  KateVane | Jun 30, 2017 |
Mick Herron’s series of espionage novels featuring Jackson Lamb and his team of ‘slow horses’ goes from strength to glorious strength. The ‘slow horses’ are intelligence officers who have been cast into ignominious exile in Slough House, the repository for the Security Service’s has-beens and failures. Jackson Lamb is himself a marvellous creation, resounding with an almost Dickensian monstrosity, eating, drinking, farting and swearing his way through the day, and never happier than when crushing one of his staff with unremitting and deliberately wounding rudeness. Jackson Lamb reminds me of Reginald Hill’s Superintendent Andy Dalziel, just without the Beau Brummell charm.

Herron does not, however, rely solely upon the grotesqueness of Lamb’s character. His plots are well constructed, watertight and all too plausible. Spook Street opens with what appears to be a flash mob prank at a large shopping mall in West London which rapidly becomes a gruesome act of terrorism, with dozens of victims. In the wake of this outrage the Security Service, now under new management following the events of the previous novel, is stretched to the limit as is struggles to find any leads. Meanwhile David Cartwright, grandfather of River, one of Lamb’s ‘slow horses’, and formerly an eminence grise within MI5, is growing increasingly worried. Sometimes he is convinced that he is being watched, while at other moments he begins to doubt his own sanity. It is, therefore, perhaps unfortunate that he still has his old Service revolver close to hand.

Each of the ‘slow horses’ has their own individual frailties and failings, often gleefully mocked by Lamb with the utmost disregard for their feelings. They do, however, complement each other, and over the last three novels have gelled together into a capable, if unorthodox, team. Meanwhile, their counterparts within the Service’s mainstream, housed at Regent Park, have more than enough of their own problems, particularly as they face additional scrutiny following the revelations in ‘Real Tigers’.

Herron has the happy knack of combining gripping spy stories with colourful characters, strewn with moments of high comedy. All utterly entertaining. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Mar 17, 2017 |
River's grandfather is showing signs of dementia and appears to have shot and killed River, but (thankfully) it isn't quite that simple. Very much in the vein of the earlier instalments in this series, which I intend as a compliment, I was glad to see the return of Catherine and plenty of Lamb. I just skimmed a tiny bit of the chase scene at the end, but otherwise enjoyed every word. ( )
  pgchuis | Feb 24, 2017 |
5/5 on the Hoot-meter

I tried, I really tried. The plan was to make it last. Read a few chapters, put it down, then repeat. Right…..I read it in a day because I was just having too much fun. When a new Mick Herron book comes out I will beg, borrow & steal to get my hands on it & this just might be the best of the bunch.

The prologue yanks you into a typical mall somewhere in London. It’s full of busy shoppers & bored teens lounging around the fountain. Then the unspeakable happens. A man steps into the crowd & detonates his vest. In the horrific aftermath, MI5 is called in to investigate & calm the public but things really hit the fan when the bomber is identified.

Meanwhile over at Slough House, River Cartwright worries about his grandfather. David Cartwright is a former spook who’s a legend in the spy world. But lately he seems a bit confused & doesn’t always recognize his grandson. He’s also dropping details about the old days that would best remain unsaid. What happens when a man full of state secrets begins to lose the plot? River has heard rumours about MI5 having an ”enhanced retirement package” for employees who become a problem & he’s determined to protect the man who raised him. That becomes a challenge when his next visit ends with a dead man in David’s bathroom.

Eventually these 2 threads intersect in ways that have the bigwigs at Regent Park scrambling to save their own skin. They’ve elevated backstabbing to an art form in an environment where “The Art of War” is probably required reading.

Book #4 of the “Slow Horses” series picks up in the aftermath of the last one & there have been some changes. Herron doesn’t hesitate to bump off establish characters so there are a few new faces at Slough House where MI5 agents labelled as screw-ups are sent to shift endless stacks of paper until they quit (or die, whichever comes first). But most of the original cast is back & they’re in fine form.

IT genius Rodney Ho continues to live in an alternate universe where everyone likes him & chicks think he’s hot. Shirley Dander has surrendered to HR requests to deal with her volatile personality & is faithfully attending AFM (anger fucking management) classes. Marcus Longridge still has that pesky little gambling problem & is so bored he’s water boarding Shirley.

Presiding over the crew is cold war relic Jackson Lamb. He’s never met someone he couldn’t offend & many would pay to see him gone but when you’ve been around a long time, you tend to know where the bodies are buried, literally.

These stories are always a great mix of smart intricate mystery & dry black humour. It’s full of moments that make you gasp, frequently followed by inappropriate laughter. Herron is a keen observer of the human condition & his depiction of David Cartwright’s battle with dementia somehow manages to be both poignant & hilarious. Even in his screwed up fictional world, you’ll recognize more than a kernel of reality as he satirizes politicians, government bureaucracy & public perceptions.

This one earns a spot on my “Top Ten” for 2016 (so far…) & I begin the long wait for book #5. If you’re a fan of Stuart MacBride or Jay Stringer, do yourself a favour & pick up “Slow Horses”. ( )
1 vote RowingRabbit | Sep 3, 2016 |
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A shakeup at MI5 and a terrorist attack on British soil set in motion clandestine machinery known to few modern spies. David Cartwright isn’t a modern spy, however; he’s legend and a bonafide Cold War hero. He’s also in his dotage and losing his mind to Alzheimer’s. His stories of “stotes” hiding in the bushes, following his every move have been dismissed by friends and family for years. Cartwright may be losing track of reality but he’s certain about one thing: Old spooks don't go quietly and neither do the secrets they keep.

What happens when an old spook loses his mind? Does the Service have a retirement home for those who know too many secrets but don’t remember they’re secret? Or does someone take care of the senile spy for good? These are the questions River Cartwright must ask when his grandfather, a Cold War–era operative, starts to forget to wear pants and begins to suspect everyone in his life has been sent by the Home Office to watch him.

But River has other things to worry about. A bomb has detonated in the middle of a busy shopping center and killed forty innocent civilians. The agents of Slough House have to figure out who is behind this act of terror before the situation escalates. Amazon
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