In anticipation of Mick Herron’s US release of London Rules, the fifth book in his Slough House series, I did a re-read of the first four books. London Rules was published after the novel Spook Street.
But that was London Rules for you: force others to take you on your own terms. And if they didn’t like it, stay in their face until they did.
I wonder if Herron had an interest in magic as a young boy. He certainly is as enamored with misdirection as a magician and just as good at it. We get to see a few excellent instances of him using this ability in London Rules, including one of the most shocking as well as hilarious moments in the series.
One of the pleasures of Herron’s books is that you can never be quite certain when he’s going to zig rather than zag. In this case we learn that sending the slow horses out on their own is perhaps not the best way to keep others safe and to always be wary of Chekhov’s paint can.
The book is set in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and while it’s not the most important plot element it does hover in the background. As an American I’ve been mercifully removed from the intricacies of the whole process of Brexit over the past couple years but I’ve been reading Tim Shipman’s excellent book All Out War and both books take on a feeling of a comedy of errors. In the Slough House novels, the bad guys in the books aren’t necessarily the true villains. Many times, and in London Rules, the real battle is within the bureaucracy and politics. That is what is at play here with dueling politicians and upper administration putting the most important of the London Rules into practice – “Cover your arse.”
The book begins with a brutal terror attack as well as an attack on slow horse Roddy Ho and improbably, they are both related. It falls to the team based in Slough House to keep a disaster from turning into a complete fiasco. Since it’s the slow horses there’s only a 20/80 chance of things working out with only minor collateral damage.
As is Herron’s habit, although all the characters get their moment in the sun, he typically shines it brighter on one or two in particular. In London Rules it’s Shirley Dander. She’s still reeling from the murder of Marcus Longfellow in Spook Street and in addition to completing her Anger Management classes has also gone cold turkey from any drugs for over two months. Her struggle becomes the spine of the book and her actions play an important role throughout the story.
River Cartwright – River is still reeling from the revelations in Spook Street. Will he pull it together enough to help stop the current threat?
Louisa Guy – She continues to be the most competent of the slow horses and perhaps in danger of becoming too normal for Slough House.
Shirley Dander – A vicious coke fiend, but the loss of her partner and anger management classes have subtly changed her in ways she doesn’t even realize.
Roddy Ho – Roddy Ho still has a girlfriend. Also, someone is trying to kill him. Coincidence? Knowing Roddy’s effect on people, I think not.
Catherine Standish – The rock that keeps Slough House functioning.
Jackson Lamb – The slug that keeps Slough House dysfunctional.
JK Coe – After Coe’s experience taking matters into his own hands last book, he’s come a bit out of his funk. But has he found a taste for violence?
Emma Flyte – The Head Dog is finding herself more and more out on a limb without a
Claude Whelan – Whelan’s wide eyed innocence (autocorrect put it as “wife eyed innocence ” which is also appropriate) from last book is gone and he’s starting to become a political animal. But will he make the right choices?
Diana Taverner – The hard as nails second in command of MI5. Always ready to hit below the belt if necessary.
Dennis Gimball – Your run of the mill right wing British politician with a columnist wife.
Dodie Gimball – Dennis’ wife and a newspaper columnist. Loved her husband and the power his position as a politician gives him.
At other times … Lamb attacks the stairs with the noise a bear pushing a wheelbarrow might make, if the wheelbarrow was full of tin cans, and the bear was drunk.
On having the proper personal perspective –
Image matters, Roddy knew that. Brand matters. You want Joe Public to recognize your avatar, your avatar had to make a statement. In his own personal opinion, he’d nailed that angle. Neat little goatee and a baseball cap: originality plus style. Roderick Ho was the complete package, the way Brad Pitt used to be, before the unpleasantness.
Lamb on poetry of motivating your staff –
“… I favour the carrot and stick approach.”
“Carrot or stick.”
“Nope. I use the stick to ram the carrot up their arses. That generally gets results.” Lamb frowned. “I hope you don’t think I’m using metaphor. This is not a fucking poetry reading.”
It looked like a fucking poetry reading, though, inasmuch as there were few people there, and none of them stylishly dressed.
There’s a fine line –
“We’re talking about a bunch of mindless bottom-feeders whose general ignorance of our way of life is tempered only by their indifference to human suffering, we’re all agreed on that?”
“Is this the politicians or the killers?”
“Good point, but I meant the killers.”
The most clear look at how Lamb became Lamb we’ve gotten –
After half a lifetime battling the forces of oppression, he’d spent the second half revenging himself on a world that had fucked up anyway. If things had gone otherwise, he might have been something to behold. As it was, he was a spectacle anyway; just not the kind to draw admiring glances.
Method of Opening Tour of Slough House
Dawn and Dusk
For the Collector
London Rules was released in the UK first in February with the US edition following in June.
As the book was just released, signed editions of both are pretty easily available at close to list price.
As Herron continues to shine the spotlight on different characters and different pairings he finds wonderful new character moments. Book series always have to balance the need to “Be different, but the same” and, despite the large amount of drinking in the book, London Rules successfully manages to walk that line.
Since Dead Lions, there’s been an alternating pattern of racking up a body count of slow Horses every other book. That means I’ll be nervously awaiting his next one.
“It’s like a bad Michael Caine movie.”
Technically, the PM was too young to remember any other kind, but now wasn’t the time.
Coming in November will be a look at the next book in the Slough House series – the novella The Drop.