Mick Herron’s Slough House – A Glossary

There is a lot going on in Mick Herron’s Slough House books and following in the tradition of John le Carré he’s created his own spy jargon. As the series continues I thought having a cheat sheet may be helpful to refresh our memories as we return to the series after a break between books.

Also, as the series has progressed, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the structure of Herron’s fictional MI5. At the very bottom of the glossary, I’ve included a potential organizational chart based on hints that Herron has dropped throughout the series.

Please know that I’ve tried to shy away from too many spoilers but given the way Slough House goes through agents, there’s a certain amount that will slip through. If you haven’t read all of the books, proceed with caution. I’ve made major spoilers hidden. Highlight the white space before the parentheses to see them. 

Read more on I’ve written on the Slough House books here.

The term or person’s first book appearance will be in parentheses.

Slow Horses (SH)

Dead Lion (DL)

The List (TL)

Nobody Walks (NW)

Real Tigers (RT)

Spook Street (SS)

London Rules (LR)

Glossary

Abbotsfield – The village that becomes an unlikely terrorist target. (LR)

The Achievers – The men who break down doors, break noses, and generally take care of all of the Services breaking needs. The boots on the ground. (DL)

Across The River – Where the analyst types in MI5 live. (SH)

AFM – Anger Fucking Management (SH)

Aldersgate Street – The street in the Barbican on which Slough House is located. (SH)

Bachelor, John – A babysitter for old assets, he finds himself in the soup when one of his charges turns up dead. (TL)

Baker, Sid – A young, attractive agent who is sent to the slow horses for murky reasons. Injured in the line of duty and spirited to parts unknown. (SH)

Black Ribboned – MI5 uses a black ribbon to tie off closed files. Also used as a euphemism for the shipping off of folks to secret black sites in Europe which is the rumored way MI5 gets rid of it’s internal and external personnel problems. (LR)

The Beast – Refers to the various informational digitized databases MI5 keeps. The opposite of Molly Doran’s hardcopy domain. (LR)

Beattany, Tom – Former undercover MI5 agent, former faux-criminal, former Dog, former butcher, former husband, former father. Currently a man with nothing left to lose but whatever little bit of his soul he has left. Probably ends up Black Ribboned or dead in a ditch. (NW)

C&C – Collect-and-Comfort, the practice of picking up a subject of interest and holding them offsite and out of sight until needed. (LR)

Cartwright, David – Known as the power behind the throne in his time at MI5 in the 70’s and 80’s. Now known as the “OB”, Old Bastard. (SH)

Cartwright, Isobel – River’s mother. Wannabe free spirit. (SH)

Cartwright, River – Young, white, fair hair, grey eyes and a mole on his upper lip. Wannabe super spy/espionage royalty/screwup. In the first book his bungled call on a potential terror incident landed him on the Slow Horses where he’s been trapped ever since. (SH)

Chapman, Bad Sam – Formerly the Head Dog who had a large amount of money go missing on his watch. Ends up working for an agency that tracks down runaways. Meets a bit of a sticky end at Slough House. (SH)

Coe, JK – Banker turned member of MI5, he’s a babe in the woods compared to cynicism and wilyness that his colleagues show. Coe learns the hard way that “Kill the messenger” is not just a turn of phrase when you work for MI5. Full name, Jason Kevin. (TL)

Cold body – A set of identity papers that is ready to be used and rock solid. Typically created years before they are needed. (LR)

Comms – Also know as Comms and Surveillance. (SH)

The Cotswolds – Far from London, this is the area where River goes undercover in to find a mysterious Russian agent. (DL)

Critical Mass – The spy thriller that River Cartwright is supposed to have written when he is undercover as Jonathan Walker. (DL)

Dancer, aka Reginald Blaine – Sketchy character who works out of a stationery shop but can also provide IDs and weapons if needed. (NW)

Dander, Shirley – Short and built like a barrel. A new slow horse who gets a high from doing her job, also from cocaine. Partners up with fellow slow horse Marcus Longfellow. (DL)

The Dogs – MI5’s internal investigation unit. They keep the MI5 employees in line and sweep their errors under the rug. Don’t end up in the lower level in one of their “interview” rooms. (SH)

Doran, Molly – Old MI5 hand who lost her legs at some point in the 90’s. Knows where the bodies are buried. Keeper of the secrets that MI5 prefers to stay buried, she seems to live in the basement of Regents Park with her files. (DL)

Dosshouse – A flop house or cheap place to stay.

Down the Corridor – Refers to the politicians in Westminster. (SH)

Driscoll, Victor – Odd duck, “tender plant” and millionaire software developer who Tom Beattany suspects may have caused the death of his son Liam. (NW)

Duffy, Nick – One of the Head Dogs. Willing to do whatever his bosses need, no questions asked. Not a fan of River Cartwright and should either wear a helmet or stay away from lead pipes. (SH)

First Desk – The Head of MI5. Constantly thinking about how to out maneuver the politicians “Down the Corridor” and their own staff. (SH)

Flyte, Emma – One of the Head Dogs. Came from the Met and is jaded against spy shenanigans. Also model level beautiful. (SS)

Grey Books – Also known as the “whackjob files.” The files that the government keeps on every crazy conspiracy theory. (RT)

Guy, Louisa – She’s surprised when her relationship with Min Harper gives her a purpose and strength she forgot she had. Probably the most competent of the slow horses. (SH)

Harkness, Frank – Ex-CIA agent who has gone rogue with his own agenda. Has a surprising connection to a slow horse. Harkness is revealed to have run a school for spies, tasked with creating it’s own version of terrorists to test out potential terrorist acts. Gets funding from David Cartwright as a way to keep him away from his daughter Isobel. Harkness also turns out to be River’s father. (SS)

Harper, Min – Sees an assignment from the untrustworthy “Spider” Webb as his way back into the big leagues.Two spy screw ups who form an unlikely connection. Meets a bad end at the hands of 2 russians. (SH)

Hess, Dieter – Retired Cold War asset, currently deceased. Still managing to cause heartburn for his handler. (TL)

Ho, Roddy “Clint” – Computer genius and social incompetent. Hacking skills – 99%, People skills – 1% Only thing keeping his people skills from rating a 0% is the existence of someone with even less. See “Jackson Lamb” (SH)

The Hub – Diana Taverner’s home base. The various operations agents and analysts work in cubicles here. Taverner’s office has windows that overlook the room. (SH)

“joe” – An agent. (SH)

joe country – Term used when an agent is out in the field on assignment. (SS)

Judd, Peter – Back bencher turned Home Secretary. His plans to become the new PM do not end up going in his favor. (SH)

The Kennel – Office space of MI5 internal security force, the Dogs. (RT)

Kim – Roddy Ho’s fabled “girlfriend” (SS)

Kyril – One of a pair of Russians working for Arkady Pashkin. (DL)

Lamb, Jackson – The famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, Cold War spy. A Cold Warrior whose closest brush with being PC was turning on a computer. Never found a nap not worth taking, belch not worth belching or fart not worth letting loose. The improbable creator and head of Slough House. Slough House was created at his request for him to run after he killed Charlie Partner for MI5 to hide the fact that he was a mole for the Russians. (SH)

Les Arbres – Base of operations for Project Cuckoo. (SS)

London Rules – The rules for survival in the MI5 bureaucracy –

Rule #1. “Cover your arse.”

Rule #2. “… [F]orce others to take you on your own terms. And if they didn’t like it, stay in their face until they did.” (SH and LR)

Longfellow, Marcus – Bald with goatee, Black, carrying a few extra pounds. Special operator and potential plant in Slough House by the politically wily Diana Taverner. (DL)

MI5 – The security service.

Moody, Jed – A former “Dog”, Herron’s name for MI5’s internal affairs/cleanup squad, now put out to pasture with the Slow Horses. (SH)

Moscow Rules – The Rules for survival in Cold War Moscow, the main one which is – “Watch your back.” See here for more. (SH)

The Needle – The latest and greatest tall building in London and the location of a meeting between Arkady Pashkin and Spider Webb. (DL)

Ops – The area that runs agents for MI5. Based out of the Hub. (SH)

Partner, Charles – Former First Desk found dead in his bathtub by Catherine Standish his assistant. Later found to have been a Russian mole. (SH)

Pashkin, Arkady – A Russian oligarch that is interested in a potential partnership with the UK. Turns out to actually be running a scam to steal diamonds from a jeweler in the Needle. (DL)

Pitor – One of a pair of Russians working for Arkady Pashkin. (DL)

Pointer, Francis “Flea” – Naive and sentimental friend of Liam, Tom Bettaney’s son. (NW)

Popov, Alexander – A former KGB officer that’s more ghost than reality. (DL)

Project Cuckoo – A seriously crazy plan to create your own terrorists so you know how a terrorist would think. Not one of the intelligence world’s better ideas. (SS)

Psych-Eval – Area of MI5 that evaluates potential operations for their psychological effect as well as offers analysis of agents and targets. Part of the Weasels and formerly JK Coe’s stomping grounds. (NW)

Queens of the Database – Gatekeepers for all of MI5’s data. Anything digital goes through them. Falls under Comms and Surveillance. (SH)

Regent’s Park – The main location of MI5. The Holy Grail for all Slow Horses. (SH)

Second Desk – There are five of these positions in charge of various areas in MI5 that report directly to the First Desk. (SH)

Slough House – Located on Aldersgate street right next to Barbican Station in London. It was created at Jackson Lamb’s request after he did the dirtiest of dirty work for MI5. (SH)

Standish, Catherine – Formerly the right hand of the head of the service, formerly a drunk, currently sober and the administrative force keeping Lamb’s Slough House running. (SH)

Stoats – Watchers. Agents performing surveillance on a target. (SS)

Taverner, Diana “Lady Di” – MI5 upper management. I was going to call her a schemer, but since everyone in these books seems to be scheming in some way, that doesn’t seem entirely fair. Better might be that she raises scheming to an artform. She keeps a finger on all the plotters plots at MI5 with the hope that one of them will propel her to the top job. The iron fist of MI5 who is missing her velvet glove. (SH)

Tearney, Dame Ingrid – Head of MI5 and someone with so many nefarious plans in the air she could join the circus as a juggler. (NW)

Tiger Team – A group that tests for holes in an organization’s security measures. (RT)

Tregorian, Moira – Office administrator bewildered she’s been sent to live with the slow horses. (SS)

Watering Hole Paper, The – Refers to a old MI5 plan on how to destabilize a third world country. Later repurposed for nefarious means. (LR)

The Weasels – The analysts who crunch the numbers to guess at what real world outcomes of various MI5 machinations might be. They live across the river from Regent’s Park. (SS)

Webb, James “Spider” – The jealous peer of River and aspiring bigwig, currently littlewig. Schemer and dreamer who unrealistically sees himself climbing the ladder past many people much better at scheming than him. See “Diana Taverner” (SH)

Welles, Devon – Emma Flyte’s right hand and another Met transplant.

Westacres – Site of a terror attack on a mall. (SS)

Potential “Slough House” series MI5 organizational chart

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3 thoughts on “Mick Herron’s Slough House – A Glossary

  1. Naomi Gargano

    This is great. I have started the first in this series twice, gave up. I’ll save this glossary and try again. Thanks.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    1. I think it’s worth another attempt. Once the book gets going, the reversals and surprises are a lot of fun. And the later books are even better.

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