In anticipation of Mick Herron’s US release of London Rules, the fifth book in his Slough House series, I’m doing a re-read of the first four books. The short story The List appeared between Dead Lions and Real Tigers in 2015.
Dieter was long retired from the world of spooks, but there were protocols to be observed. When a spy passes, his cupboards need clearing out.
The List was a short story released to promote the upcoming release of Nobody Walks, Herron’s Slough House adjacent novel that shares some peripheral characters. It follows the fallout when a retired asset’s recent passing reveals him to have been not quite as out of the game as everyone may have thought.
Along the way we get a bit deeper look at the world of Herron’s MI5 outside of Slough House. We meet a couple of new characters – John Bachelor, who has managed to screw up the spy equivalent of a “milk run” and is now left to scramble, and JK Coe, new to MI5 and still figuring out which way is up. Coe will reappear in the Slough House related Nobody Walks as well as popping up in future Slough House books so reading this novella is a nice introduction. It’s also fun to see Diana Taverner at work. Along with Sun Tsu and Machiavelli she should be on the Mount Rushmore of wily political operators.
Dieter Hess – Retired Cold War asset, currently deceased. Still managing to cause heartburn for his handler.
John Bachelor- A babysitter for old assets, he finds himself in the soup when one of his charges turns up dead.
Diana “Lady Di” Taverner – The iron fist of MI5 who is missing her the velvet glove.
JK Coe – Banker turned member of MI5, he’s a babe in the woods compared to cynicism and wilyness that his colleagues show.
Jackson Lamb – The famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, Cold War spy.
Molly Doran – Keeper of the secrets that MI5 prefers to stay buried, she seems to live in the basement of Regents Park with her files.
Memorable Quotes –
Lamb, setting the bar high for any future James Bond actors –
He reached for his glass, balanced it on his chest, … craned his head forward, caught the rim of his glass in his teeth, and easing his head back again, allowed the contents of the glass to pour into his mouth. He swallowed, then set the glass back on his chest. “When Daniel Craig can do that,” he said, “tell him to give me a ring.”
Diana Taverner getting straight to the heart of the problem, as usual –
“It’s hardly Tinker, Tailor, John. You wipe their noses, feed their cats, make sure they’re not blowing their pensions on internet poker, and—and I really didn’t think this needed emphasising—and above all, make sure they don’t have bank accounts they’re not telling us about. You want to take a guess as to why that’s so important?
Coe contemplating how he’d ended up working for MI5 –
Like any boy, he’d once harboured fantasies of being a spy. The fact that here in grown-up life, the opportunity actually existed—that there was a number you could ring!—offered a glimmer of light in what had become, far sooner than he’d been expecting, a wearisome way of making a living. It turned out that a psychology degree and a background in investment banking fitted Five’s profile of desirable candidates. That’s what Coe had been told, anyway. It was possible they said that sort of thing a lot.
Dieter Hess’ flat is located in St. Albans, a commuter suburb just outside of London. He lived in a slowly decaying apartment just off the railroad into London. We also visit various pubs and cemeteries local to the town.
In addition to places like Slough House and the Herron’s fictional MI5 headquarters by Regents Park, we stop by a local MI5 watering hole just off Great Portland Street.
For the Collector
The book was released as an inexpensive ebook as well as a trade paperback in the US. I saw the same US edition in London when I visited and it appears that although John Murrays, the UK publisher, updated the ebook cover they did not release a new print version. Each includes a short preview of Nobody Walks.
Although not essential, this story does set up some other characters you’ll seen in future books and offers up a nice little twist that makes it worth reading.
Next up is a look at book 2.75 in the Slough House series – Nobody Walks.