First lines – Mick Herron

I highlighted the first lines from Eric Ambler and John le Carré novels awhile back and I thought it would be interesting to do something similar for Mick Herron. Will we see any changes or discover heretofore undiscovered trends?

Hard as it was, I tried to stick with just the first sentence, although I couldn’t stop myself a couple of times.

Down Cemetery Road –

When he opened his eyes he expected to find all the light squeezed from the world, but no: he was alive still, strapped to a bed in a sterile room, angry red claws of pain scratching channels in his flesh.

The Last Voice You Hear –

“She’s the one.” She wore black jeans, red top, a black leather jacket; she had dark curly hair and was old—forty, fifty, somewhere round that—with a shoulder bag that swung like an invitation: banging heavy on her hip, loaded with purses, credit cards and women’s stuff; everything she’d need in the big bad city. Definite out-of-towner. She should have had victim tattooed on her forehead.

Why We Die –

If there is an answer to the question, it is this: because our bodies are designed to lie in boxes in the dark; arms neatly folded on our chests. Feet together. Eyes tight shut. This is why we die: it’s the end we were shaped for.

Smoke & Whispers –

It was dark, but there were stars upon the water. They reflected from the lights strung on the bridges, from the windows of the still-lit buildings, from the yellow shuttle bus pulling away along the quay, but most of all from the searchlights on the police launch: dabs of light that pricked out the body bobbing on the river like a chalk outline on concrete.

Reconstruction –

In cartoons, when the alarm rings, the cat, mouse, dog, whatever, hauls a mallet from under the pillow and BAM!—cogs, levers and coils go everywhere; the clock face droops from its casing like a cuckoo on a spring . . . Morning is broken. In the real world, you simply reach a slow hand out and depress the button so the ringing stops. And for the moment it takes this to happen, you’re held between two worlds: the dream life in which mallets are hidden under pillows by pyjama-clad animals, and the default waking mode in which you blink twice, remember who you are, and feel detail seep back into you the way light infiltrates the room—you’re Louise Kennedy, you’re thirty-two years old, and today is either the first day of the rest of your life or the last day of your old one, depending on how things work out.

Slow Horses –

This is how River Cartwright slipped off the fast track and joined the slow horses.

Dead Lions –

A fuse had blown in Swindon, so the south-west network ground to a halt. In Paddington the monitors wiped departure times, flagging everything ‘Delayed,’ and stalled trains clogged the platforms; on the concourse luckless travellers clustered round suitcases, while seasoned commuters repaired to the pub, or rang home with cast-iron alibis before hooking up with their lovers back in the city.

The List –

Those who knew him said it was how he’d have wanted to go. Dieter Hess died in his armchair, surrounded by his books; a half-full glass of 2008 Burgundy at his elbow, a half-smoked Montecristo in the ashtray on the floor. In his Yeats’s Collected – the yellow-jacketed Macmillan edition – and in the CD tray Pärt’s Für Alina, long hushed by the time Bachelor found the body, but its lingering silences implicit in the air, settling like dust on faded surfaces.

Nobody Walks –

The news had come hundreds of miles to sit waiting for days in a mislaid phone. And there it lingered like a moth in a box, weightless, and aching for the light.

Real Tigers –

Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.

Spook Street –

So this was what springtime in London was like: the women in knee-length dresses of blue-and-white hoops; the men with dark jackets over sweaters in pastel shades.

This is What Happened –

The longer she sat there, the colder she became. With her back to the cistern, and her feet drawn up beneath her, Maggie perched on the closed lid of the toilet, and concentrated on being as still as possible.

London Rules –

The killers arrived in a sand-coloured jeep, and made short work of the village.

The Drop –

Seasoned Park watchers later said that the affair really began in Fischer’s, that beloved “café and konditorei” that bestows a touch of early twentieth-century Vienna on the foothills of twenty-first-century Marylebone High Street; its warm interior, its spring yellows and glazed browns, a welcome refuge from the winter-drizzled pavements.

Joe Country –

The owl flew screaming from the barn, its wingtips bright with flame.

The Last Dead Letter

Rules about access only took you so far.

The Catch

They came for him at dawn, just as he’d feared they would.

Slough House

Her morning turned out shorter than she’d planned.

Bad Actors –

The woods were lovely, dark, and deep, and full of noisy bastards.

Standing by the Wall –


The name wasn’t so much dropped as thrown from the top of Slough House, and like a snowball fining its target struck Roddy Ho, two floors down, on the back of his neck.

Find more on Mick Herron here.

3 thoughts on “First lines – Mick Herron

  1. Anne Ayres

    I have never heard of The Last Dead Letter. I have looked on Amazon and it is not mentioned. There is no reference to it in the book list of other titles in his latest, Joe Country. Is it a Novella or an American title for one of the British Novellas?

  2. Anne Ayres

    Thank you so much for that – it was good to read the synopsis AND the spoilers (I’m greedy, I want it all!) Sadly though it seems the copies with the short story in are sold out, though perhaps it’s a good thing, as I’ve already got Joe Country in hardback, paperback and on my Kindle, so maybe buying it all over again just for the short story would be a bit OTT. But I do feel a bit cheated when they do this sort of thing 🙁 I simply hadn’t known about it, and thought it must be one of his already published novellas given a different title in the States or Canada. Love his work, often crack out laughing out loud, but had my heart in my mouth when it appeared River was dead in Spook Street. I also love how the weather is almost another character in his books – the heat wave in one, the constant rain in another and then the snow in Wales…

    It’s great to find a new protagonist of the form – I’m okay with Le Carré and it’s many years since I’d read and enjoyed Deighton but most are just pale imitations – EXCEPT for the four Harry Maxim books by the late great Gavin Lyall, also able to write with that dry edge of humour; unfortunately the series stopped when the Berlin Wall came down and his later ones about the birth of the Security Services around 1910 were good but they weren’t “Our ‘Arry” (who in my mind’s eye is forever Charles Dance after his TV version of the first one, The Secret Servant.) DO read them if you don’t know them, and I would say it’s better to take them in the right order.
    Many thanks for the link. A.

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