Soho Crime, 400 pages, $15.95 (c2016)
The “Slow Horses” books have brought Mick Herron acclaim. They are certainly an acquired taste, with their wry, arch, bright, and brittle dialogue and narrative. There are classical allusions, including a mild wash (or a wild mash) of epithets to describe the main characters, especially Jackson Lamb, the slug-like chief of Slough House, where inept British operatives languish.
Some of the denizens have been in the books since “Slow Horses,” the debut of the series. River Cartwright is smart but rash. Catherine Standish is still fighting personal demons not too long ago put at bay. Roderick Ho is the classic, clichéd computer nerd and awkward personality. Along with a couple of others, they all work together in a little crooked house, pounding out useless data, monitoring useless information, and biding their time and checking their souls until … what? Do they still hold out hope that they will be returned to a normal life within the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of the intelligence agency? Or do they acknowledge that penance must be paid for the sins that landed them at Slough House in the first place and stoically accept it. They are termed the “slow horses,” not fast runners out of the gate certainly. Maybe they are a step behind analytically as well. Whatever, there they sit, in all their trenchant gloom and bitterness.
Catherine Standish is kidnapped one day. She is allowed to call one person she trusts with her life. The choices are cringe-worthy, but she chooses River. In captivity she is treated rather well, even with an en suite facility, with a kindly young guard she nicknames “Bailey.” What is going on? River, meanwhile, hares off on the task that will (perhaps) save Catherine. The task, while not simple, is relatively straightforward. When does everything go wrong? Is it when River is captured? No. Perhaps it is when a couple of the slow horses are fired. No. Perhaps it is when a VW’s worth of clownish security people start piling out, guns and tasers blasting. Perhaps. Perhaps it would help to learn the real story behind Catherine’s kidnapping. But that takes all of the rest of the 400 pages.
The wit will keep you awake, and the story will perplex until all is revealed. And that is what you want, isn’t it? A+ for style.