Book Review: Mick Herron – Joe Country (Slough House 6)

Generally, when a series reaches book six, it becomes lazier and more predictable. The main characters will never die. They won’t get as much development. The series relies too much upon self-referential quotes, in-jokes and procedure. You certainly cannot make these statements in the context of Mick Herron’s Slough House / Jackson Lamb series.

From the blurb, it is expected that not all of the main characters will make it back alive. Which, although, isn’t the case in every installment – there’s a roughly 60% chance – is always lurking around the corner. Herron isn’t afraid to kill any of his assortment of troubled failed spooks if the story necessitates it. But from the get-go, we know at least one man and one woman die in the course of the next 342 pages. And it is never clear who, not until it actually happens.

As I have previously stated, Mick Herron is a master of the absurd. Lamb, during a particularly frosty exchange with Catherine Standish, remarks: ‘we’re spies. All kinds of outlandish shit happens.’ And it’s once again the case here. Car crashes, knife fights, shoot offs, Wonder Woman with a wrench, cliff-edge confrontations; ‘Joe Country’ reads like your usual satirical action movie. Think John Wick, but where everyone is absolutely useless. And Shirley Dander is hungry the entire time.

The plot centres on Pegsea, a small town in Pembrokeshire. Which as the reader is reminded of on at least seven occasions, is in Wales. Louisa Guy receives a phone call from Min Harper’s wife – well, no spoilers, Min hasn’t been around for quite a while, but his ghost has never departed. And from that point on, snow, sheep and assassins reign throughout the rural, coastal countryside of Pembrokeshire.

Unlike other novels, Herron has a way of making you truly like a character before they die. They may not have been in it for too long, but you feel something in your heart when the air is taken from their lungs in amongst the carnage. This happens once in this book. It’s been a very long time since I felt quite as bad for a fictional character as I did reading the exit of this particular one….

Plot aside, the real joy of this book is in Mick Herron’s writing. There is no doubt that care and attention went into every word; whether it’s the repeated joke of Pembrokeshire being: ‘ ,in Wales’, or Shirley playing ‘yellow car’ as she remembers Marcus Longridge, who has been long gone for quite a while, or even the unsubtle digs at politicians, Brexit, the BBC and just about everyone in current affairs, you can tell the amount of detail that went into the writing. One of my own favourite quips from ‘Joe Country’ refers to a former Prime Minister with a Messiah complex still being grumbled about in the Hague. You might not always agree with the viewpoints expressed – Jackson Lamb has a penchant for being outright offensive – but if you recognise that every reference is character based, it’s also fucking hilarious.

The seventh book, with its working title of ‘Jacksom Lamb 7’, is not expected to be published until Feburary 2021. Rather a long wait (I want it now!!!!); but if that’s what it takes for the story to continue being this good, then I’ll allow it. Additionally, someone has clearly been reading my blogs, as Slough House is being turned into a television series starring Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb. This will either be brilliant or awful; needless to say, I’ll be excited to watch the visual manifestation of this brilliant universe.

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