Monday, July 7, 2014

Slow Horses: Mick Herron


Description of the book from the authors's site:
Slough House is Jackson Lamb’s kingdom; a dumping ground for members of the intelligence service who’ve screwed up: left a service file on a train, blown a 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 his kidnappers threaten to behead him live on the internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. 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 …
There is one main plot and a couple of sub-plots. The main plot is the attempt to save the young man who was abducted; the group working at Slough House get involved with this, but are warned off in many ways, by many people. Throughout, Jackson Lamb makes it clear that the members of this group are really not very talented. The secondary plots have more to do with clearing up why some of the Slow House crew are in this predicament. How did they get relegated to Slough House, and is there any hope for their futures?

The author does a fine job of intertwining these pieces, revealing conspiracies and showing us the fallibilities of both the "slow horses" and the agents who are still working. It is scary that I found the entire scenario very believable. The story is told with humor, but it is subtle, not overt.

I liked the characterizations, not just the "slow horses" but the other members of MI5 that they deal with and even the kidnapped young man and his captors. Not many of these people were likable, but the depth of characterization made them believable and interesting. There were no cardboard characters.

There have been comparisons to Le Carre but then every new spy story is compared to Le Carre, unless it is in the James Bond vein, more adventurous. This is a story of the mundane side of espionage, and those who have been cast out from the inner circle and left to bide their time until they give up or retire. More than one reviewer has complained that the story was interesting in the first half, and suffered in the second half. This was not true for me; the story kept me interested throughout. It was not a fast-paced read, but I was never bored.

I purchased this book and read it fairly soon after getting my copy because I was eager to try Dead Lions, the author's sequel to Slow Horses. Dead Lions was the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger for crime fiction novel of 2013. I was pleased with this one, and hope I like Dead Lions as well.

Can somebody please help me? How is Slough as in Slough House pronounced?

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Publisher:  Published in the US March 11th 2014 by Soho Crime (first published January 1st 2010)
Length:    329 pages
Format:   Trade paperback
Series:     Slow Horses
Setting:    London, UK
Genre:     Espionage fiction
Source:   Purchased my copy

14 comments:

  1. Skimmed the review because its on the pile, but Slough is pronounced SL (obviously) then OW as in WOW, as opposed to SLOW (moving at a snail's pace)

    Definitely not GH = F, as in TROUGH = TROF (phonetically)

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    1. Thanks, Col, That is definitely not a pronunciation I came up with. Hope you like the book when you get to it.

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  2. Tracy - I'm gad you enjoyed this. You make a clever and well-taken point about the comparisons to le Carré. This does sound like a solid thriller, and what I like about the sound of it is the depth of character development. Thanks as ever for a fine review.

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    1. Thank you, Margot. This was enjoyable and I think the characterization was the strong point.

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  3. I had heard of Dead Lions, and would like to try it, but now I think I should read this one first. In the UK, Slough (as well as having misleading spelling) has a reputation of being a dull horrible town - I'm sure it's quite undeserved, but it's always good for a cheap laugh. I'm sure every country (and US state) has it's own similar place...

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    1. Moira, in my opinion, I am guessing it would help to have some background on Slough House and the characters before reading Dead Lions. But I have read plenty of reviews where people read Dead Lions first, and they still seemed to like it. Thanks for the info on Slough (the town); one could gather that from the book but not very clear to this non-UK reader.

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  4. Tracy, I liked the term "slow horses" and what it means, especially in the intelligence community, although every profession has its own share of slow horses. And an interesting story too.

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    1. Prashant, it is a good story, and I hope the next one is as good. I guess you are right, there are "slow horses" everywhere. Although each may have their own talent.

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    2. Tracy I found very helpful the following page http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=slough&submit=Submit

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    3. Thanks, Jose Ignacio. Your are right, it did help a lot, and I found out why I was confused. Everything I found said "sluff" or "slew", and this explains why.

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  5. Loved the review, has made me curious...have no idea if I'll ever get around to read it! I want to finish reading 50 classics first, just 4 more to go! Follow up question: how many crime books ( paper or digital) do you have in your library?

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. Re how many crime books I have, I don't have a count, but I have been counting (roughly) how many unread books I have. (Almost all of my books are crime novels.) In the upstairs portion of my house (which is small), I have 320 unread books. Based on that I would guess I have a total of at least 1000 crime fiction books total, maybe 3/4 of them unread. I have been collecting them for decades, though.

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    2. I forgot to count the digital books, but we have been collecting those only about two years, and I prefer paper, so maybe 50 - 60 digital crime fiction books?

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  6. I love collecting books! I plan to make a list of what I have and get organised!

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