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 his Slough House related work. Herron’s short story/novella The Drop was released a few months after London Rules in the fall of 2018. Read more I’ve written on Herron and other Slough House books here.
The Drop, aka The Marylebone Drop in the US, is a follow up to his previous short story The List. We return to John Bachelor who, although already on the bottom of the MI5 ladder, has somehow managed to fall a few further rungs. At this point he still keeps tabs on old MI5 assets that have been put out to pasture but has been demoted to part time. Bachelor’s change in circumstances leaves him hanging on by a thread, couch surfing and contemplating having to sleep in his car.
An unexpected opportunity appears when one of his charges, Solomon Dortmund, notices a brush pass taking place at the coffeeshop where he’s a regular. As is wont to happen in the world of Slough House, things quickly spin out of control.
After two of these short novellas it’s apparent that Herron is taking advantage of their remove from the main characters to explore some different areas of the Slough House universe and give new characters he’s created a moment in the spotlight before joining the misfit slow horses. To that end we meet Alec Wicinski, an smart analyst who makes the dumb decision to help out Bachelor and gets himself a fast track to the Slow Horses for his trouble.
There isn’t much time to create a truly twisty plot in 60 pages so the ending feels a bit preordained. That said we do get some great scenes, including one of master manipulator Diana Taverner at work torturing someone, not with water boarding but instead muffins and turnovers.
It seems as though it may be Herron’s plan to tell the story of the German triple agent over a period of time via a few novellas and, based on the quality of the first two, it’s a plan I can get behind.
John Bachelor – In a return visit to this down at his heels spy, Bachelor shows he’s managed to fall even further.
Diana Taverner – Herron takes a few pages to remind us of what a force to be reckoned with Taverner can be. Her ability to manipulate and intimidate is only rivaled by her main antagonist, Jackson Lamb.
Solomon Dortmund – A spy who has come out of the cold and into retirement but has one last operation to report on.
Oliver Nash – The head of the Limitations Committee who is no match for the deviousness of Taverner.
Richard Pynne – A MI5 stuffed shirt and babe in the woods when it comes to running agents.
Hannah Weiss – A triple agent for Germany who proves able to lead her MI5 handler by the nose.
Alec Wicinski – MI5 analyst who learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished.
Martin Kreutzmer – A member of the German spy agency running Hannah Weiss and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty to keep his agent free and clear.
The joys of London snow –
[T]his was snow with a job to do, snow that would cause everything to grind to a halt: buses and taxis, the underground, the people, the shops, the law, the government. All these years gone by, and he still didn’t know what it was with the British and snow. Pull on your boots, wear gloves, spread a little salt and put shovels in the hands of the right people: what was so difficult about that? But no, let any kind of weather turn up looking grim and the country went into shock.
On spy games –
Martin has been playing this game for a long time, and knows that, like those of politicians, all spies’ lives end in failure. The best among them fade away with no one having suspected their true calling; for others, the end comes sooner, and that is all. It is part of the game.
On suicidal thoughts –
For the first ever time, it struck him: if this was what he had to look forward to, should he maybe just bow out?
It wasn’t a moment of illumination; more a taking-on-board of something found at the back of his mind. Not the answer, necessarily, because something might turn up, but still: a way out of his current predicament; a means of avoiding the humiliations piling up ahead, like a roadblock designed by Kafka. He could simply pull the switch. The thought didn’t fill him with a sense of triumph, but the fact that it didn’t fill him with dread struck a deeper chord. It was said that people who talked about killing themselves never actually did so. And he wondered if those people who did had had moments similar to this one; whether their first inkling that that big word, suicide, had specific relevance to themselves arrived not hand-in-hand with calamity but during an ordinary day; and whether it felt to them, as it did to him, opening an envelope addressed to The Occupier, and finding their own name on the letter within.
We see London in winter. I don’t recall Herron setting any of his previous Slough House books when it’s been snowing and there are some great impressions of the city slowing to a halt over a little bit of snow.
We also get to see a bit more of the layout of the Regent’s Park headquarters of MI5. Bachelor finds refuge in the overnight accommodations that they have available to staff when dealing with a ongoing crisis that doesn’t let them go home.
Continuing Herron’s tradition of using real locations as settings for his stories Fischer’s, located in London’s Marylebone neighborhood, plays a key role in the story. Fischer’s is an Viennaese style restaurant and from the pictures certainly looks like a fun place to visit and an unlikely spot for a bit of spy business.
For the Collector
The Drop is to be released as a paperback and hardcover in the UK. Released under the title The Marylebone Drop in the US it’s only receiving a paperback release.
Signed UK copies are available from both Goldsboro Books and VJ Books and given Herron’s typical touring schedule my guess is that there will also be opportunities to get it signed next year when Slough House 6 is released.
The Drop is worthy follow up to Herron’s previous novella The List. Herron seems to take great delight in putting his creations through the ringer for our reading pleasure. I hope it’s his plan to continue to follow this story thread in novella form before collecting the complete saga together in a book.
Next up will be a look at book 6 in the Slough House series due out in June 2019.
More on book 6 here.