Mick Herron’s legion of MI5 super-flops return for another jolly jaunt in Slough House’s seventh installment, which although satisfying and entertaining in equal measure, is probably the weakest in the series.
On the surface, this one ticks all the boxes needed of a modern spy thriller.
Well-developed and advanced characters? Tick.
Suitably complicated plot with lots of twists? Tick.
Lots of anti-Russia sentiment? Tick.
However, maybe this is because of the exceptional standard which Herron has set for himself, but I felt this one fell a little flat. The central characters, those of Slough House, felt somewhat like sideshows in someone else’s novel, and I think this book could have done with a few extra pages of them doing whatever they’re doing. The few moments where more than two were together – one in the kitchen, arguing about focaccia, another in a graveyard in the dead of night – were beautiful. The verbal sparring between Jackson Lamb and Catherine Standish was as wonderful as ever. There was also the development of a surprising partnership, between Shirley Dander and Lech Wicinski, who rather entertainingly made a complete mess of a Tube station toilet. Though what that had to do with the plot, is beyond me.
And that’s the issue I have with this book. The characters are as effervescent as ever, and the dialogue is flowing, and the writing is wittier than ever. But the plot… I can give how slightly far-fetched it is, but it simply isn’t long enough. There’s filler here, and there really didn’t need to be. There were too many clandestine meetings between Diana Taverner and the very smarmy and very Boris-like Peter Judd, who I absolutely despise. Maybe there were just too many characters to really push all of them forward. I appreciated the interesting link to the 2018 Salisbury murders, but hopefully book 8 will return to more character-driven drama. Someone coming back from the long-dead was a shock – one which was genuinely thrilling – but too often here too it got a bit predictable.
I thought that this was the end of the Jackson Lamb show, so I am excited that ‘Bad Actors’ will be coming out whenever it’s written. Hopefully bad actors don’t plague the TV adaptation which is coming in 2022.
Looking forward to the future, but this is a chapter which wasn’t perhaps entirely necessary. Still worth a read if you’ve been sucked into this wonderful universe of espionage.