Anthony McIntyre 🔖 Dieter Hess, an old East German asset is found dead in his St Albans flat.


Old spies too must die of natural causes, so no particular cause for alarm. Then a quick search - obligatory when spooks pop their clogs - of his flat uncovers a list of names, hidden beneath a carpet. To make matters worse a secret bank account turns up. 

Nothing is going to draw suspicion towards a spy more than a secret bank account. Establishing whether Hess was or was not compromised is the task that falls into the lap of John Bachelor. 

This is the theme driving the novella, described as 2.5 in the Slough House series rather than 3. It should have been the third. Although much shorter, it is as good as what preceded it and could have been spared the awkward classification.

John Bachelor would prefer to be supping a pint in the spook local in Great Portland Street than digging into the life of Hess. Whatever pitfalls might accrue from his drinking they seem much easier to deal with - buy more beer - than the fate that awaits him should it turn out that Hess was a double agent on Bachelor's watch. His nemesis here on this track none other than Diana Taverner, an old sparring partner to Jackson Lamb. Known as Lady Di - but always behind her back and more for her conceit than any resemblance to the British royal from whom the name was taken - she has the balls of Bachelor in her grip and is not easing on the pressure. 

Her admonishment to him: make sure they don’t have bank accounts they’re not telling us about. You want to take a guess as to why that’s so important?

Bachelor didn't have to guess, but feared that it was a guess that could make him a guest to a world outside of that inhabited by the Spooks. Just an easy time was all he craved but with no chance of success under the baleful glare of Lady Di. He needed the job because his divorce had "cleaned him out." No bare minimum couple of grand that was a necessary part of any escape kit. Fuck Dieter Hess anyway. Bachelor had "gone to find proof of Dieter's innocence. What he had in his pocket proved to be the bastard's guilt."

But things are never quite so straightforward in Spook world. 

Jackson Lamb might have a home and a family but it didn't seem that way given the amount of time he spent lounging about his office. More chance of finding intelligent life on Twitter than Lamb in a family home thought Catherine Standish. Lamb certainly hated traitors but he had a narrow bandwidth for the type and did not include assets in it. Where did Hess fit in? Lamb's mind works overtime although he makes it look leisurely. The permutations do not compute easily in this hall of smoke and mirrors. Lamb with a delicate whiskey performing act assures his listeners that he is even more accomplished than the current James Bond. All part of the character building that Mick Herron accomplishes so well. 

Thus, Molly Doran, an old friend of Lamb's from back in the day, pushes herself into poll position. Confined to a wheelchair, her ability is not. The spook archivist, she is queen in her own castle. She ran a whole floor, it was whispered; ran it like a dragon runs its lair. 

Saddle up a slow horse and enter the world of Slough House.

Mick Herron, 2016, The List. Soho. ISBN-13: 978-1616957452


⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

The List

Anthony McIntyre 🔖 Dieter Hess, an old East German asset is found dead in his St Albans flat.


Old spies too must die of natural causes, so no particular cause for alarm. Then a quick search - obligatory when spooks pop their clogs - of his flat uncovers a list of names, hidden beneath a carpet. To make matters worse a secret bank account turns up. 

Nothing is going to draw suspicion towards a spy more than a secret bank account. Establishing whether Hess was or was not compromised is the task that falls into the lap of John Bachelor. 

This is the theme driving the novella, described as 2.5 in the Slough House series rather than 3. It should have been the third. Although much shorter, it is as good as what preceded it and could have been spared the awkward classification.

John Bachelor would prefer to be supping a pint in the spook local in Great Portland Street than digging into the life of Hess. Whatever pitfalls might accrue from his drinking they seem much easier to deal with - buy more beer - than the fate that awaits him should it turn out that Hess was a double agent on Bachelor's watch. His nemesis here on this track none other than Diana Taverner, an old sparring partner to Jackson Lamb. Known as Lady Di - but always behind her back and more for her conceit than any resemblance to the British royal from whom the name was taken - she has the balls of Bachelor in her grip and is not easing on the pressure. 

Her admonishment to him: make sure they don’t have bank accounts they’re not telling us about. You want to take a guess as to why that’s so important?

Bachelor didn't have to guess, but feared that it was a guess that could make him a guest to a world outside of that inhabited by the Spooks. Just an easy time was all he craved but with no chance of success under the baleful glare of Lady Di. He needed the job because his divorce had "cleaned him out." No bare minimum couple of grand that was a necessary part of any escape kit. Fuck Dieter Hess anyway. Bachelor had "gone to find proof of Dieter's innocence. What he had in his pocket proved to be the bastard's guilt."

But things are never quite so straightforward in Spook world. 

Jackson Lamb might have a home and a family but it didn't seem that way given the amount of time he spent lounging about his office. More chance of finding intelligent life on Twitter than Lamb in a family home thought Catherine Standish. Lamb certainly hated traitors but he had a narrow bandwidth for the type and did not include assets in it. Where did Hess fit in? Lamb's mind works overtime although he makes it look leisurely. The permutations do not compute easily in this hall of smoke and mirrors. Lamb with a delicate whiskey performing act assures his listeners that he is even more accomplished than the current James Bond. All part of the character building that Mick Herron accomplishes so well. 

Thus, Molly Doran, an old friend of Lamb's from back in the day, pushes herself into poll position. Confined to a wheelchair, her ability is not. The spook archivist, she is queen in her own castle. She ran a whole floor, it was whispered; ran it like a dragon runs its lair. 

Saddle up a slow horse and enter the world of Slough House.

Mick Herron, 2016, The List. Soho. ISBN-13: 978-1616957452


⏩ Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

2 comments:

  1. Did you ever watch Breaking Bad , Anthony?

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  2. On 22 July 2022 Mick Herron’s sardonic spy thriller series called Slough House deservedly won him the Theakston Old Peculier crime novel of the year award. If Jackson Lamb had won it he'd have had a huge hangover this morning but let's not dwell on what that might have sounded or smelt like. Both Mick Herron's Slough House series and the Burlington Files series of espionage thrillers by Bill Fairclough were initially rejected by risk averse publishers who probably didn't think espionage existed unless it was fictional and created by Ian Fleming or David Cornwell. It is therefore a genuine pleasure to see an anti-Bond anti-establishment novelist achieving immortality in Masham. Let’s hope Beyond Enkription, the first stand-alone fact based spy thriller in The Burlington Files series, follow in the Slow Horses’ hoof prints!

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