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by Mick Herron
Soho, February 2021
301 pages
ISBN: 1641292369

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In a world that no longer has John le Carré in it, readers can be comforted that at least we have his heir apparent still giving us sharp, politically trenchant espionage novels on a regular basis. For the past ten years, Mick Herron has been writing about a colorful collection of spies who washed out and have been parked at Slough House, under the leadership (such as it is) of Jackson Lamb, a Rabelaisian figure whose crude behavior masks serious tradecraft talent.

The seventh of the series opens with a spy in training who is trying to shake off a tail. She thinks she has made a clever escape, only to have a knife slid neatly between her ribs. When the news arrives in London, Diana Tavener, First Desk of MI5, is pleased. Russian spies had had the gall to poison British citizens on their own soil; the score needed to be evened. Mission accomplished, with nobody the wiser. Except, in order to skirt around the tiresome process of having such a risky mission approved, she has made a terrible bargain.

In post-Brexit Britain, disaffected and angry protestors are milling in the street of London, egged on by a young right-wing media influencer and a politician riding a populist wave (a character who combines the arrogant nihilism of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson's speech patterns). He may not have made it to Number 10 but is still pulling strings behind the scenes. The residents of Slough House are much as they've always been, an oddball assortment of failures, rusticated in a crumbling building doing not much of anything.

Roddy Ho, their geeky IT specialist, learns their records have been erased from the service's electronic files and soon they realize MI 5 trainees are using them for stalking practice. Before long, former Slough House employees are also being stalked, but more viciously. Jackson Lamb gets wind of the trouble Tavener has gotten herself into – trouble that puts his joes in danger - and heaves himself into irritable action to sort it all out.

Herron has a biting wit. Though he handles his politics with a lighter touch than post-Cold War le Carré did, underneath the rollicking surface of humor that is somehow both erudite and slapstick, there's a certain amount of rage bubbling away. Like le Carré, Herron highlights the venial motives behind global politics, exposed by a cast of characters who are about as far from James Bond as it gets, with flaws and foibles that can be laugh-out-loud funny. But don't be fooled: the foolish shenanigans of post-truth post-Brexit confusion can lead to a heart-wrenching place.

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

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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