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by Mick Herron
Soho, February 2015
294 pages
ISBN: 1616954868

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Mick Herron is a terrifically smart and often wickedly funny writer. His two previous espionage novels, SLOW HORSES and DEAD LIONS (which won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of 2013) chronicle the doings of a dead-letter office for wayward spies who may have been officially put out to pasture by MI5 but are still able to get up to a lot of intrigue and mischief.

His new novel is set in a darker, starker place. As it opens Tom Bettany is a working as a common laborer in an abattoir in France. His previous career as a spy was, perhaps, good preparation for the slaughterhouse. A phone call calls him back to London, and to a son who he hasn't seen in years. He manages to get home just in time for the cremation.

Liam Bettany had fallen off his balcony, or so it seems. Bettany isn't so sure. In his experience, nothing is quite as it appears. Liam was smoking a new and potent kind of weed when he fell; is the drug, and the people who have introduced it to the market, responsible? Or is it something more complicated, something to do with Liam's job at a video game company? There's something off about the scene, something not right. All Bettany has left in his life is an urn full of ashes, a regret for a son he never really knew, and one question: what happened to him?

As he seeks answers, using the skills that made him a legendary field operative in Northern Ireland and other dangerous places, his blunt and uncompromising investigation comes to the attention of two interested parties. One is a criminal who wants him dead; the other is Dame Ingrid Tearney of Intelligence Services who wants him to stop asking questions.

Those expecting the wild humor and ornate language games of Herron's previous spy novels may be disappointed – at first. Tom Bettany holds the narrative voice hostage, and he gets straight to the point. He offers no illusions about the organization he worked for. He's neither shaken or stirred, he's a bruised cynic of the John le Carré school of spycraft. Though there's nothing funny about this book, it provides ample proof that Herron is still a dab hand at knotting up a plot in complicated ways and he writes with uncommon grace about a man who has no illusions, other than pondering what kind of relationship he might have had with his son had things been different.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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