Spook Street by Mick Herron
Every person who works in the secret service backwater of Slough House is a character, from Lamb, their farting, non-pc boss who knows everyone and everything, right down to the newest rejects to join his team.
The novel opens with an explosion – a suicide bomber targets a flash mob performance in a London shopping centre. The new head of the secret service, Claude Whelan, formerly of MI6, is thrown in at the deep end as he starts his job. Soon they’ve identified the bomber:
…they had reconstructed the minutes that had ticked down to zero, each stage of the journey rooting Robert Winters more fixedly into the life he had emerged from, and loosening him from the explosive manner in which he had ended it. Here he was on the underground, among crowds of the ignorantly blissful; here he was changing trains at Edgware Road, his blurry features by now more familiar to his watchers than those of their own children. And so it went, step after step, fragments of footage spliced together in reverse order. […] Nobody so hunted could remain uncaught. We will have him was the common refrain, and it became almost irrelevant that he was unhavable… (p107)
After Lamb, River Cartwright is the younger action hero of the group, and this, the fourth novel in the series, focuses on him and his grandfather. David Cartwright had been First Desk in all but name, a legend among spooks, but he is now showing signs of dementia and he thinks he’s being watched. River is on his way to visit as he does regularly… cut to gunshots and a body at Cartwright Sr’s house… is the body River? (Shades of that first episode of TV series Spooks, where they killed off a main character in the first episode.) I won’t tell you more about the plot.
Herron is a master at the internal politics of the secret service, in this he echoes Le Carré, but there’s always a sense of humour that makes his books a joy to read. This is Lamb talking about his new, mature secretary:
“…speaking of the fairer sex, how is our new lady friend settling in? Where is she anyway?”
Marcus said, “Did you just call her a lady?”
“Of course. Always be polite when referring to a woman of a certain age,’ Lamb said. “In case the old cow turns vicious.” (p115)
It is probably best to read the series from the beginning, although they do work individually too. As always, I loved the political shenanigans, and I can respect Lamb’s experience and know-how however revolting he is as a man. As always, all of the team get involved in solving the central dilemma. This one has some great twists too – I couldn’t put it down (10/10)
Mick Herron, Spook Street (John Murray, Feb 2017), Hardback, 352 pages.