Book Review: Mick Herron – The Drop and The List (Two Slough House Novellas)

As I eagerly await the paperback release of the sixth book in Mick Herron’s ‘Jackson Lamb’ series, for Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the two novellas which accompany the series and exist within the same universe. In November, they were announced to be in the same volume for the first time; meaning that they are half of the price of what they used to be when released individually. No doubt, once ‘The Catch’, the third novella in the sub-series is released in January 2020, that by next Christmas a book containing the trilogy will be released.

‘The List’ is intended to slot in as book 2.5 within the series, although in reality you could read it at any point as it doesn’t affect the main characters in any major way. It contains the already-established characters of Jackson Lamb and Catherine Standish (fans will appreciate the more personal conversation they have together in Lamb’s office, which is slightly different in tone to those of the main series), and J.K. Coe, who makes an entrance to the main series in ‘Spook Street’. The fierce Diana Taverner is also present in ‘The List’, but more it serves to exist as the opening of a mini-series for John Bachelor, a Service operative who now controls the ‘milk round’ – making sure that retired spies aren’t up to no good in their twilight years. When Dieter Hess, one of his stops, dies and it transpires that he has been having dodgy dealings, John needs to find out why before it finishes his career.

‘The List’ is good as an introduction to Slough House for those who don’t wish to commit to a full-length novel at first. Less detailed descriptions of character and quite a fast opening are the main characteristics; unfortunately, the detailed character descriptions are one of the biggest qualities which Herron’s writing contains and so perhaps he is not an easy fit for a shorter effort. Although the dialogue and prose are, as usual, witty and entertaining, the plot itself seems somewhat plodding, at least until the final twenty pages when twists and turns keep occurring. This novella is not his best, but good for new readers of his, and a welcome addition to the Slough House canon.

‘The Drop’, the more recent novella released originally in 2018, is intended as book 5.5 of the series, slotting in just after ‘London Rules’. Now, this needs to be read after ‘The List’, as it is a direct sequel to the previous novella. Building on the mounting problems of John Bachelor, and continuing the story of ‘List’ character Hannah Weiss, it revolves around retired spook Solomon Dortmund, who witnesses a ‘drop’ in a London cafe – one which could be the imagination of an old man, but just as easily could expose a triple agent.

The plot here is not the greatest. It feels like an excerpt from a longer novel, however that isn’t to say that it’s bad. As I previously mentioned, Herron’s style suits the 330 page model. The Slough House Novellas should be considered accompaniments to the main series, held together by the independent lives of Bachelor and Weiss. There is less crossover this time around, the only character having been previously in the main series being Diana Taverner. However, it also functions as an intriguing lead-in to ‘Joe Country’, as Lech/Alec Wicinski (the man with two names, which makes him “feel more like a spy than his Service card”) begins his story as a minor character here, and winds up at Jackson Lamb’s mercy in book 6. I can only imagine the nasty comments which Lamb and co will utter.

Two passable stories, although this series does deserve full length books. It is an interesting concept, seen more in TV than in books; a shorter tie in spin off series. I like it, but if ‘The Catch’ retails at £8.99 like its predecessors originally did, I’ll be waiting until a price more worthy of its 100 page length is available. This collection is, however, also good for those who are new to the Slough House universe.