Spok Street BY MICK HERRON
BY MICK HERRON (JOHN MURRAY) OUT NOW
“The misfit spooks grip our attention throughout the offbeat, intricate plot”
Slough House – as you might guess from the name – isn’t exactly the most prestigious arm of the British Secret Service. In fact it’s by way of MI5’S refuse tip – a shabby, crumbling building accessed via a putrid alleyway in eastcentral London, staffed by an illassorted bunch described as “the catastrophes of the intelligence world”.
The team turn out to be a rich gallery of addicts, obsessives and psychological walking-woundeds, dumped in this scummy backwater of the Service for varied misconducts, or simply for having antagonised the wrong person. They’re headed up by the breathtakingly charmless Jackson Lamb (“I don’t think of you as a team, I think of you as collateral damage”), the foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, heavy-drinking lead character in Mick Herron’s spy series.
So James Bond this quite decidedly isn’t. Even John le Carré’s Circus would seem almost impossibly glamorous by comparison. Few of the denizens of Slough House are likeable, let alone admirable. But in Herron’s hands, and much aided by his exceptional knack for sharp, sardonic dialogue, the doings of this team of misfit spooks grip our attention throughout the offbeat, intricate plot.
Spook Street starts with a bang – a very loud and lethal one indeed: a particularly horrendous act of mass terrorism. But then Herron effects a change of gear; on the one hand are the events at Slough House in the wake of the atrocity, and on the other an unscheduled expedition to deepest France, and into a particularly murky aspect of the covert past, for one member of the team. The two strands, of course, prove to be linked, though in ways you might not actually expect.
Much of the pleasure of reading this novel derives from Herron’s bone-dry humour and his ineradicably cynical view of the exploits of Britain’s undercover operatives – attitudes that are shared by most of his characters. Heroic or patriotic effusions are in blessedly short supply. And although he’s Newcastle-born, the author shows an intimate grasp of London geography, with an acute feel for its scruffier backstreets and less tourist-friendly crannies.
The plot builds inexorably to a nerve-tingling, action-packed climax that would play out superbly on screen. And in fact a TV series adapted from the Jackson Lamb novels is said to be in preparation. If so, that’s something to be eagerly looked forward to.