Slow Horses, Mick Herron

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Been very intrigued by this series for the longest time, and I'm so glad I finally remembered to add it to the audio queue. Probably been mentioned lots before, but this felt very much like a worthy successor to the espionage thriller crown that sat atop John Le Carre's head for many many years.

Originally published in 2010, Slow Horses is the nickname that the MI5 uses for "Slough House" a division of the service that's a dumping ground for members that have screwed up. Their sins are many, varied yet depressingly similar: secret files left on trains, blown surveillance jobs and drunk and unreliable being examples. In the middle of this is River Cartwright, shunted to Slough House because of a major stuff up on an exercise to prevent a lone terrorist bomber from blowing up a major railway station in London, an exercise which Cartwright swears was deliberately sabotaged. Spending his days on meaningless tasks like transcribing mobile phone conversations, and watching their famous, but now reputationally faded boss, Jackson Lamb lord it over his scruffy and downtrodden domain, Cartwright has plenty of time to seethe. Turns out quite a few of his colleagues have the same attitude, but it's not until a young man of Pakistani origins is kidnapped, with a threat to behead him live on the Internet as payback for terrorist acts, that they all come together. In part as an attempt to redeem themselves, in part due to sheer boredom and frustration.

The story in SLOW HORSES was slow building, intricate and full of asides and descriptions of life for a going nowhere intelligence officer, particularly one like Cartwright who has a family history of the highest standing, and a serious problem with the higher-ups. It turns out Jackson Lamb is not completely different when it comes to that second point, although it does take the kidnapping of that poor young Pakistani man to give him any leeway in some point scoring, proving and returning some not too pointed favours. Lamb's a fascinating character - shadowy in some ways, the ultimate puppet master, he's also vaguely dissolute and totally not quite what he seems. Cartwright on the other hand is a lot more upfront - about his thwarted ambition, his confusion over the situation he finds himself in, and, when required, his willingness to fight back. Not quite quickly enough in some cases, and some of his colleagues at Slough House find themselves backing him, or in the firing line as they chase down the leads they find in an attempt to rescue the young man before he's killed. All of which has the hand of a couple of master manipulators in the background, clutching the ends of a lot of strings, some of which are fraying a darn sight quicker than others.

Thoroughly enjoyed this audio book, have the second one waiting in the wings now.


Year of Publication
Book Number (in series)

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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Karen Chisholm
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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/01/2024 - 05:14 am


Mick Herron's Slow Horses in the Slough House anti-Bond series is brilliant on screen and paper and it is great news to see a splendid new author challenging the Fleming, Cornwell and Deighton claims to be emperor of the espionage fiction throne. No doubt British Intelligence will be annoyed that such an anti-Bond production can succeed as, of course, was the case with Harry Palmer in the films based on Len Deighton's novels.

Another not dissimilar anti-Bond film production might be on its way based on TheBurlingtonFiles series of spy novels but unlike the Slough House series and Len Deighton's works it is more fact based than fiction. Interestingly, the protagonist in TheBurlingtonFiles has been likened to a posh Harry Palmer with a dry sense of humour akin to that of Jackson Lamb.

The first thriller in TheBurlingtonFiles series was called "Beyond Enkription". It was released in 2014. The remaining five volumes in the series have been stalled for "legal and security" reasons. Nevertheless, Beyond Enkription is an intriguing unadulterated stand-alone thriller and a super read as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

Beyond Enkription has been heralded by one US critic as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. Little wonder, unlike Slow Horses, Beyond Enkription is mandatory reading on some countries’ intelligence induction programs.

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