The well-written spy novel is not a hotly contested field. Le Carré, Fleming, Deighton, a few Greenes, and that’s largely it. However, we now have a new contender: Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series.
It was a brief but intriguing review in the TLS that first alerted me to the books, with their sidelined spooks, contemptuously nicknamed ‘slow horses’, sent to an oubliette next to the Barbican on having screwed up, and their appalling boss, the veteran Jackson Lamb, a monster of flatulence, astonishing drinking habits and withering put-downs (on requesting ‘an educated guess’, he says, on hearing what’s offered: ‘I said educated. That guess left school at 15 for a job at Asda’), who can nevertheless, on occasion, move as silently as a ninja and is seemingly omniscient.
London Rules is the fifth book in the series. Having read the previous four, and, moreover, paid for them with my own money, an extraordinary admission for a book reviewer to make, especially this one, I can say it is at least as good as the rest. There is a familiar template. The books begin with an outrage of some sort. We then cut to Slough House, the unofficial name for the slow horses’ dismal offices, whose wretched residents are being kept busy, and mindlessly bored, collecting number plates, or council tax bills, or anything not directly connected to the outrage. Jackson Lamb torments them with their own insignificance.
But then there is something they can do, often connected to the fact that it turns out, in some way, to have been the Secret Service’s fault after all, and the proper spies over at the shiny spy building in Regent’s Park end up having to dance to Jackson Lamb’s tune.