Slow Horses by Mick Herron reviewed

Slow Horses Book Cover Slow Horses
Jackson Lamb book 1
Mick Herron
John Murray
August 11, 2016

Shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award Slough House is a dumping ground for members of the intelligence service who've screwed up: left a service file on a train, say, blown a surveillance, or become drunkenly unreliable. They're the service's poor relations - the slow horses - and most bitter among them is River Cartwright, whose days are spent transcribing mobile phone conversations. But when a young man is abducted, and his kidnappers threaten to behead him live on the internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what's the kidnappers' connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone involved has their own agenda . . .

I found the opening chapter of this book by Mick Herron (the first in a series) somewhat confusing. It is clear that some sort of major terrorist plot is about to be active. I was not sure exactly what was going on but it was definitely tense. Moving on we find out just who the “Slow Horses” actually are. Slough House is their “home” and they seem to be people who have had fairly spectacular failures working for the security services. It is also clear that not all the failures have been made public. It would appear the hope is that once transferred to Slough House the Slow Horses will get very bored and resign saving the security services from having to deal with the problem. Initially I found the writing a little awkward however that changed fairly quickly and the story appealed to me more and more.

This is a story about spies or at least security personnel, based in the UK, in which things maybe don’t go quite to plan. For a long time it is really not clear who is behind aspects of what is going on. I really did like the characters, interesting and well developed. Initially River (one of the Slow Horses) and his grandfather, an ex security services man known as “the O. B.”, interested me. However, coming far more to the fore as the book progressed, was Jackson Lamb, the boss of Slough House. He really is a great character and will lead to me reading the other books in this series I’m sure.

In the end this is quality writing to me. A good story line set in current times, with good characters and laconic, dry and highly readable writing. It has a feel of an earlier era and would I think appeal to Le Carre/Deighton fans. However it is also contemporary and with dark humour. In a sense it was “slow burn” story (& maybe not really a “thriller” in some senses) for me however, almost before I realised it, I was completely engrossed.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review