Anthony McIntyre 🔖Slough House is not where old spies go to die, although occasionally that is the fate that awaits them. 

A “spooks’ equivalent of Devil’s Island”, useless spies go there. More accurately, those pigeonholed as useless end up there to scoop mercury with a fork until, it is hoped, tedium trumps their desire to go on, and they eventually collapse in a heap in the doorway of the nearest dole office. This enables the cynicism of the spook establishment to trundle on undisturbed by unwanted agencies such as employment tribunals poking their nose in places inhabited by protected species.

Sack the useless, and they took you to tribunal for discriminating against useless people. So the Service bunged the useless into some god forsaken annex and threw paperwork at them, an administrative harassment intended to make them hand in their cards.

Those savvy enough to play their cards rather than hand them in need to be old dogs for the hard road. At their head, the redoubtable Jackson Lamb. The determination of the users to oust the useless is met with fierce resistance fueled by career addiction. Hard for a spook to see the writing on the wall when their job as a spy depends on them not seeing it, as the Upton Sinclair quip goes. And so each rung of the career ladder, even the lowermost, is gripped with the tenacity exhibited by a shipwrecked sailor holding on to whatever debris might keep him afloat.  

My mother always insisted on befriending the characters in novels, so it is probably a trait picked up from her. What I loved when reading the Sven Hassel war series as an imprisoned teenager five decades ago, was accompanying the main players as they fought their way from one theatre of war to the next. Slough House characters, too, serve in their own penal battalion. Staying with them keeps the journey riveting. River Cartwright is back with Jackson Lamb and the team. Just as it was almost fifty years ago with Tiny and Porta. Then there is Spider Webb, a nemesis of Cartwright from the opening book, Slow Horses. An oleaginous slimeball to break even my mother’s empathy with characters.

Another type of denizen of the dark it is impossible to befriend is the reptilian agent of influence. Seems they are a universal phenomenon that leech onto the body they are ostensibly part of, which they go on to bleed dry. Having proved to their paymasters their biddability, pliability is the state they seek to reduce their host to, influence their method.  

They were agents of influence. They were bright talented people, with access to people with access, and they reached right into the heart of the establishment.

There is a bald ring of familiarity about the type. 

A dead spy, his body discovered on a bus close to Oxford – a city whose university was the starting point for many a career in espionage - even had it not being suspicious it would have been viewed by the suspicious minds of spies as being suspicious anyway. A seeming heart attack but . . . Lamb, never to be led to the slaughter, thinks to himself that Dickie Bow has been murdered. Lamb knew Bow from the day when both had been Cold War warriors trudging the streets of Berlin. While there may not have been much Lamb seemed to care about, he did regard joes in the field with something that might be described as fondness. That would not have inhibited his farting when speaking of them. Better out than in as he said, but then maybe not. 

The inquest findings did not surprise him, probably a veteran author of too many contrived coroner’s reports to trust them. Alexander Popov, who features in the book is not to be confused by the inattentive reader with Stefan Popper when it comes to thinking of dodgy coroners. But that is another story which might confuse if persisted with.

With Popov, enter the Russians – these days they always do. If not poisoning adversaries at Salisbury they might be using public transport as a form of hearse.

This is a game of cat and mouse although not in the way a a reader might expect. Herron makes great use of the imagery to take readers on a tour of Slough House, the stable of the Slow Horses. The cat in particular, moves like a rumour!

Humorous and profane, when the Slow Horses gallop, the reader is reminded: "when Lions yawn, it doesn't mean they're tired. It means they're waking up."

Mike Herron, 2013, Dead Lions. Soho Press. ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1616952259.

⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Dead Lions

Anthony McIntyre 🔖Slough House is not where old spies go to die, although occasionally that is the fate that awaits them. 

A “spooks’ equivalent of Devil’s Island”, useless spies go there. More accurately, those pigeonholed as useless end up there to scoop mercury with a fork until, it is hoped, tedium trumps their desire to go on, and they eventually collapse in a heap in the doorway of the nearest dole office. This enables the cynicism of the spook establishment to trundle on undisturbed by unwanted agencies such as employment tribunals poking their nose in places inhabited by protected species.

Sack the useless, and they took you to tribunal for discriminating against useless people. So the Service bunged the useless into some god forsaken annex and threw paperwork at them, an administrative harassment intended to make them hand in their cards.

Those savvy enough to play their cards rather than hand them in need to be old dogs for the hard road. At their head, the redoubtable Jackson Lamb. The determination of the users to oust the useless is met with fierce resistance fueled by career addiction. Hard for a spook to see the writing on the wall when their job as a spy depends on them not seeing it, as the Upton Sinclair quip goes. And so each rung of the career ladder, even the lowermost, is gripped with the tenacity exhibited by a shipwrecked sailor holding on to whatever debris might keep him afloat.  

My mother always insisted on befriending the characters in novels, so it is probably a trait picked up from her. What I loved when reading the Sven Hassel war series as an imprisoned teenager five decades ago, was accompanying the main players as they fought their way from one theatre of war to the next. Slough House characters, too, serve in their own penal battalion. Staying with them keeps the journey riveting. River Cartwright is back with Jackson Lamb and the team. Just as it was almost fifty years ago with Tiny and Porta. Then there is Spider Webb, a nemesis of Cartwright from the opening book, Slow Horses. An oleaginous slimeball to break even my mother’s empathy with characters.

Another type of denizen of the dark it is impossible to befriend is the reptilian agent of influence. Seems they are a universal phenomenon that leech onto the body they are ostensibly part of, which they go on to bleed dry. Having proved to their paymasters their biddability, pliability is the state they seek to reduce their host to, influence their method.  

They were agents of influence. They were bright talented people, with access to people with access, and they reached right into the heart of the establishment.

There is a bald ring of familiarity about the type. 

A dead spy, his body discovered on a bus close to Oxford – a city whose university was the starting point for many a career in espionage - even had it not being suspicious it would have been viewed by the suspicious minds of spies as being suspicious anyway. A seeming heart attack but . . . Lamb, never to be led to the slaughter, thinks to himself that Dickie Bow has been murdered. Lamb knew Bow from the day when both had been Cold War warriors trudging the streets of Berlin. While there may not have been much Lamb seemed to care about, he did regard joes in the field with something that might be described as fondness. That would not have inhibited his farting when speaking of them. Better out than in as he said, but then maybe not. 

The inquest findings did not surprise him, probably a veteran author of too many contrived coroner’s reports to trust them. Alexander Popov, who features in the book is not to be confused by the inattentive reader with Stefan Popper when it comes to thinking of dodgy coroners. But that is another story which might confuse if persisted with.

With Popov, enter the Russians – these days they always do. If not poisoning adversaries at Salisbury they might be using public transport as a form of hearse.

This is a game of cat and mouse although not in the way a a reader might expect. Herron makes great use of the imagery to take readers on a tour of Slough House, the stable of the Slow Horses. The cat in particular, moves like a rumour!

Humorous and profane, when the Slow Horses gallop, the reader is reminded: "when Lions yawn, it doesn't mean they're tired. It means they're waking up."

Mike Herron, 2013, Dead Lions. Soho Press. ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1616952259.

⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

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