Review published on March 14, 2018.
This is the fourth in Herron’s series of satirical spy thrillers based around the activities of the slow horses of Slough House. I’ve read all the previous novels in the series, though this is the first I’ve reviewed. It can be read as a standalone, though reading the series is so much better.
The novels centre around Slough House, a satellite station of MI5 where the Service’s misfits and disgraced members – the so-called Slow Horses – are sent to serve out their time until they retire or resign. Lording it all over them is Jackson Lamb, an overweight, flatulent bully of a man, albeit one who deep down cares for his underlings. The Slow Horses themselves are a selection of well-drawn characters, who the author imbues with individual character flaws and foibles. Each is lovable and repellent in his or her own way.
Each novel in the series takes on the same format: something happens, a plot or disaster, and against all the odds the Slow Horses become embroiled and have to save the day. In Spook Street it’s a suicide bombing in a shopping centre, a flash mob having been organised only for the organiser – the bomber – to blow themselves up amidst the crowd. In a seemingly unrelated event, the grandfather of River Cartwright – perhaps the most “normal” of the Slow Horses – a MI5 legend has an attempt made on his life and River takes it upon himself to find out why. Needless to say, these two plot threads link up and soon the Slow Horses find themselves in the middle of the investigation into the bombing. I won’t give away spoilers but needless to say that the bombing is not all it seems either and there’s a fiendish plot behind it all.
Supposedly, there’s a distinction between “plot-driven novels”, often dismissed as “genre” novels, and “character-driven novels”, which are supposedly “literary”. This series of novels shows such a distinction to be meaningless. I’m sure most critics would class them as plot-driven, but to my mind the plots are always rather weak. Spook Street is no different, the plot is almost a MacGuffin, a device just to get the characters running around the place, chasing their tails. The fun is had in seeing the Slow Horses themselves, reading Jackson Lamb’s latest outrageous, non-PC statement. This isn’t a criticism at all, but an observation.
All in all, as with the rest of the series, Spook Street is good fun and fresh take on the spy genre.
James Pierson 4/4
Spook Street by Mick Herron
John Murray 9781473621299 pbk Sep 2017
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