Slough House by Mick Herron – A Review

Very minor spoilers below.

What do you do when that thing from your past you’ve moved on from, or at least tried to bury deep inside, comes back? Do you embrace it? Reject it? Run from it as fast as possible? Perhaps all of the above and more. 

That’s part of what River and the slow horses are facing in Mick Herron’s latest, Slough House

Herron lulls you into a false sense of security from the start with his now regular trip through Slough House, a waystation for spy screw ups, and it’s current tenants. However it isn’t long before the pennies start to drop and we learn MI5 is not only facing threats from the outside of the Russian flavor, but also an existential crisis from within. 

The book starts slow, setting up the mystery. Slow horses are being killed and no one is sure why and who might be next. At the same time Diana Taverner, the new head of MI5, is coming to terms with the devil’s bargain she’s made with conniving politician Peter Judd. Although Taverner has always had her own agenda, her motivations were clear – the dual purpose of advancing both her career and the country. Judd has no such higher motives than growing his own power and influence. That lack of morals gives him permission to be more ruthless than Taverner. 

As head of Slough House Jackson Lamb continues to look out for his joes, even if he doesn’t like or respect them very much. We start to see the wrongly framed Lech integrate into the group and partner with Shirley Dander, which based on the past performance is not a good long term career move. Tech head Roddy Ho continues to live on a whole different planet.

Although the last book had another confrontation with River’s father, it was really Louisa’s story. In Slough House, it’s fully River’s story as he faces a ghost from his past. As usual, River plays at James Bond, trying to be the lone wolf savior, but there’s starting to be a glimmer of recognition that his life is rather empty. His grandfather, who was his strongest family connection and gave his life direction is gone. Instead he’s left with a one bedroom apartment and no friends. His only way forward might be to accept the help of others in an effort to start to connect more.

Although some of the previous novels’ plots haven’t been as strong as his character work, I found the balance of plot vs. characters here one of the best. Real world events, Russian hit teams and political protests, have given him a good jumping off point. Herron continues to look into the future and see what’s just around the corner so that when his books come out, you’re amazed at how close to current events he’s managed to get. Whether it’s Brexit or politicians manipulating crowds of rioters, you wonder whether he’s got a crystal ball in addition to his keyboard up in Oxford. Perhaps we need to petition him for a book on world peace next. 

This book is a gift to long time readers. In the same way that Joe Country was a sequel to  Spook Street, Slough House is a sequel to Slow Horses. You could easily read the first book and then Slough House without missing too much, not that I’d recommend skipping the other novels. 

The ending is truly surprising. I had my antenna up and was aware something was coming but still managed to be shocked at how completely Herron had pulled one over on me. Herron’s narrative tricks are well known and long time readers know to keep their eyes peeled, but I was still taken quite by surprise. The life of a slow horse is never easy and once you become one, there’s no going back. The same could be said for fans of Herron’s books.

Herron uses a “shock and awe” strategy of novel writing. He shocks you with absurd situations, violence and political cynicism and awes you with his character studies, evocative writing and humor. Slough House is no exception.

More on previous Slough House books here.

9 thoughts on “Slough House by Mick Herron – A Review

  1. Anne Ayres

    I am intrigued by two quotes here – “Slow Horses are being killed…” and “….Slough House is (can be seen as) a sequel to Slow Horses” Who else is left to kill apart from the main protagonists? Lamb, Standish, Louisa, River, Roddy and Shirley? NOoooooooooooo!! And it hardly seems fair on Lech… So I’ve often wondered what happened to Kay in Slow Horses – she was “persuaded” to make a statement by Regents Park. Did she get her job back there? Unheard of. And there was another guy who was picked up similarly before Jackson could warn him – or was he one of the high body count in Slow Horses, I forget. As well as the ongoing mystery of Sid – did she survive? Spider just disappeared from his hospital room when River last went to see him – did he really die? We were never “in their heads” like we are with the current crew, so they could have been seen as expendable at the time. Who is expendable now? Not Shirley, please, not Catherine, not Roddy…. Oh dear, the suspense until I get my hands on a copy!

  2. Anne Ayres

    Thanks Jeff! Had my jab on Saturday, just got to survive one more day – I envy you the chance of the early review copy! Great review too, no spoilers, just intriguing little character-driven pointers… Thanks again.

  3. Lizzie

    Oh my goodness! Have finally had a chance to read and my heart rate hasn’t gone down yet. Trying to be as vague as possible so as not to spoil anything, but do you believe the cliffhanger will be resolved favorably? I am very, very, very much hoping so. Just thinking of the possible insults Lamb could come up with after something like that!

    1. I don’t know! I feel like it will be tricky to do that without diminishing the impact of the ending, but I think it will be resolved the way you hope. I think you’ll get my meaning. 🙂

      1. Lizzie

        Thanks, Jeff! 🙂 I also see what you mean about it being tricky, but it’s something where, even resolved favorably, it’s a sobering, major thing that gives Herron room to maneuver in terms of character relationships/motivations. To me, resolving it favorably is the best of two worlds–it’s a bit of a surprise/departure from the past and it’s still also major enough to allow for resets.

  4. sueceezee

    Spoiler alert!!!!

    I was disappointed in the excessive dialogue. Action was sparse.

    I was disappointed that River didn’t anticipate his home was unsafe and that he didn’t ask his neighbor to let him know of further intruders or nosy visitors at her home. Not sure I care anymore.

    Quiller is still my favorite agent.

  5. Andrew

    “At the same time Diana Taverner, the new head of MI5, is coming to terms with the devil’s bargain she’s made with conniving politician Peter Judd.”

    I enjoyed how Herron handled Judd’s inspiration becoming prime minister, and without also making Judd prime minister.

    “Although Taverner has always had her own agenda, her motivations were clear – the dual purpose of advancing both her career and the country.”

    Interesting. I’ve never felt like Tearney and Taverner were interested in protecting the UK as much as themselves, and that they’re certainly much more competent at the latter than the former. For much as the slow horses are meant to be losers and failures, it’s not as if Regent’s Park covers itself in much glory at any point in the series.

    Lamb’s concern for his joes is the closest any authority figure in the book comes to having any sort of altruistic impulse, and even that seems motivated as much or more by his ego, pettiness and bloody-mindedness than any genuine concern.

Leave a Reply