Joe Country by Mick Herron – First Impressions Review

I’ll have one of my full in depth looks at the book on its release, but have a first impressions review below. You can read more I’ve written on Mick Herron here.

In the history of spy novels, Mick Herron’s Slough House is becoming as memorable a location as le Carré’s spy headquarters the Circus. However, being sent to Slough House is not like making it to the top floor of the Circus. It’s much closer to finding a long hidden Easter egg in June. You may have an outer shell that says you’re still in MI5 but crack it open and a foul smell escapes causing everyone nearby to run for cover. I’d say that applies to the head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb, too but he always has a foul smell hovering around him and nobody ever goes looking for him, Easter or not.

Compared to London Rules, which took off like an out of control car, Joe Country is a more sedate affair. In a narrative shift from previous books, the first pages reveal that not all of our slow horses will be returning to the stable, leaving a sense of impending doom hanging over all the characters. Everyone manages to find new depths to hit, although there’s always a sense that they haven’t truly found the bottom yet and the worst is still to come. Whether it’s Catherine Standish and drinking, River and his family drama, or Roddy losing his one and only (fake) girlfriend, times are darker than normal for the agents left in the purgatory that is Slough House. How far must you fall before it’s not worth getting back up? Is it ok to just give up?

While London Rules functioned as basically a standalone book in the series, Joe Country rewards long time readers by bringing back plotlines and characters going back to the first book. Min Harper’s death, sleazy politician Peter Judd, River’s mercenary spy father, and Herron’s two novellas all play important parts in the story. Although it starts at a slower pace, by the time the book has the snow falling and blood running, you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.

Joe Country continues to showcase Herron’s ability to write unlikable, jaded characters you can’t help coming back to visit. Herron has put his creations through the wringer so many times they should be as dry as a bone but he somehow always finds another drop to squeeze out. And like laundry, not all of his characters make it safely back to the sock drawer.

Special thanks to Herron’s publisher John Murray Ltd. for providing an advance copy for review.

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