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Jonathan Ball

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An entertaining, rugged read which continues to make you root for the odd, damaged and potentially psychopathic slow horses – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Mick Herron’s London Rules

Published in The Witness

London Rules is the fifth novel in Mick Herron’s Slow Horses series of spy thrillers, and for anyone keen to read them – and they are great fun – the best place to start would be at the beginning. To be able to follow what is going on, knowledge of the back story is vital.

The slow horses are a bunch of disgraced spies who have been banished to a dismal, semi-derelict building called Slough House in a gloomy part of London. They haven’t done anything bad enough to be completely dismissed from the service, or else the service wants to keep an eye on them, not cut them loose. Their boss is the utterly repulsive and fiendishly clever Jackson Lamb, who once worked as a spy behind the Iron Curtain, and who has enough skeletons in his cupboard to furnish a catacomb.

Britain is being targeted by a series of terror attacks, vicious, not entirely competent and increasingly bizarre. It is not something the slow horses have been asked to help with, but Roddy Ho, possibly the oddest member of their odd crew, seems to be the target of another not entirely competent killer. Inevitably, there is a link.

The cover blurb, from Val McDermid, calls Herron “the John le Carre of our generation”, but he isn’t. His books aren’t driven by the moral indignation that makes Le Carre one of a kind and gives his storytelling a fundamental seriousness. Sure, Herron is scathing about contemporary politicians and politics and the spying establishment, and for anyone who follows the news, there are plenty of recognisable figures in the picture he paints, but the main thrust of Herron’s enterprise is entertainment, not outrage.

The entertainment is of a rugged kind: these books are not for the squeamish, and certainly not for those committed to political correctness, but odd, damaged, and potentially psychopathic as the slow horses are, you can’t help rooting for them. And mysterious and awful as he is, Jackson Lamb’s one redeeming feature is that he watches over his team, and can, more or less, dig them out of any trouble they get into. And trouble follows them, in spades.

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