Slough House is Jackson Lamb’s kingdom; a dumping ground for members of the intelligence service who’ve screwed up: left a secret file on a train, blown surveillance, or become drunkenly unreliable. They’re the service’s poor relations – the slow horses – and bitterest among them is River Cartwright, whose days are spent transcribing mobile phone conversations. But when a young man is abducted, and it’s threatened that he’ll be beheaded live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem him. Is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone involved has their own agenda….
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You know those books where immediately after you finish it, you think, "I hope this is the beginning of a series!" Yeah, me neither. Except I felt that way about "Slow Horses." Dismissing it for months because of the title (horses = wild west = yawn) After a spate of unwise, underwhelming book choices, I finally read this novel's description and gave it a try. Well, as they say, 'even a blind pig finds a truffle every once in awhile,' and I found a treasure in "Slow Horses." The title is a wordplay and the pejorative term used to describe those British intelligence officers who have somehow messed up just enough to take themselves off the MI5 fast track but not quite enough to get fired. In author Mick Herron's words, (Slough House) "serves as an administrative oubliette where alongside a pre-digital overflow of paperwork, a post-useful crew of misfits may be stored and left to gather dust."
You can see the vein of gold waiting to be mined right there: the back story of each disgraced officer, what they reveal to each other, how they accept their lot, the painful interactions with MI5 high flyers when their duties involve an errand to Regent's Park. Add to that the kidnapping of a British national with foreign roots and we're off and running for an enthralling ride of intrigue. It is tempting to agree with the other excellent reviews describing this book as full of 'twists and turns.' But in an effort to say something new, I'll describe it as a book with ongoing revelations that cause the reader to think, "Oh, so that means...." As the story progresses, details about each character emerge and they are always smart and they always make sense. The head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb, is an acerbic, vulgar "anti-Smiley" who lives less in his head than George Smiley does, but is just as old school in his fierce loyalty to those agents entrusted to him.
Narrator Sean Barrett delivers the story well and without distraction."Slow Horses" contains portions of intense dialog so being able to differentiate the speakers is crucial and Barrett does this well.
Back to the series idea. I'm picky and have probably shot myself in the foot by avoiding some great reads just because I've seen them in airport bookstores. I'm not proud of my literary pretensions, but I believe they have protected me from excessive eye rolling and exasperation over the years. I'll immediately pounce on a Dalgliesh mystery from P.D. James, a Wexford novel from Rendell, and an Inspector Gamache from Penny. Other series? Wary as a cat. However, a book like "Slow Horses" leaves me hungry to read more novels involving this great cast of characters. So, Mr. Herron, it's been decided: a series it shall be. Write on.