Slow Horses


Mick Herron


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

January 6, 2021

saw a review last year of Joe Country. The review was effusive in praise, but Joe Country is the sixth book in the Slough House series. I decided I would start at the beginning; Slow Horses is the first book in the series. I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was a treat. I am not sure how Mick Herron did it, but I kept turning the pages and reading "just one more chapter" until I was up very late on a work night and had finished the novel. Herron has a knack for surprise, the narrative kept going in a direction that I did not expect, the plot was full of unexpected moments. The characters also displayed unexpected behavior, they were well drawn and interesting. I am already looking to pick up the second book in the series, Dead Lions. Perhaps I will eventually read far enough to make it all the way up to the much-praised Joe Country

River Cartwright is a failure. We see him fail in the prologue. River is a newly minted agent for British Intelligence. His first mission - find a suspect wearing a blue shirt over a white T shirt in a crowded subway station. The mission ends horribly. The suspect was wearing a white shirt over a blue T shirt - how could River have gotten such a straightforward assignment confused? The consequence is that River's career is finished before it even has begun. The Intelligence agency doesn't fire him, but River is assigned to work in Slough House. Slough House is where all the Intelligence losers are assigned, these sad agents are called "Slow Horses". The reader is introduced to a whole organization of agents who screwed up - we learn of their embarrassing career-ending blunders and the soul crushing assignments that they are given now. They should just quit - Slough House is a limbo from which no one ever returns to Regents Park - Regent's Park is where the functional agents perform actual intelligence work. But River and his cohorts have a streak of determination, they stick it out despite the hopelessness of their careers. For example, River's latest assignment is to purloin the trash of a disgrace journalist, to go through the mess in search of a clue, any clue.

Overseeing Slough House and its cast of losers is Jackson Lamb. Fat, slovenly, uncouth, but not stupid, Jackson Lamb is in charge of these useless agents. It is his job to assign them tasks such as listening to the recorded transcripts of intercepted calls, or searching data bases for clues.

One morning, Lamb walks into Slough House and finds his agents gathered around a monitor. On the screen is a young man, his hands bound, a hood over his head. There is a looping message - it says that in 48 hours, the unidentified terrorits will cut off this young man's head on live video. There are no demands, no calls for ransom, such an announcement that a bloody crime will be committed somewhere in London is purely for political reasons. Lamb instructs his staff to get back to their desks - obviously a crime this dramatic will be handled by the professionals at Regents Park. Lamb's teams of losers at Slough House will not be involved.

Of course the Slow Horses get involved.

Herron introduces a host of characters, and since this is a series, I assume that the survivors will return in future volumes. We are treated to a backstory of each character, we see the world from their lonely perspective. I thought it was great material. In hindsight, I realize that there were some unlikely coincidences, but the pace of the story was such that I didn't have time to ponder the plot. I am not saying the plot isn't well-thought out, all I am saying is that there were a few events that probably wouldn't happen that way in real life.

Slow Horses is highly recommended. I hope volume 2 is just as good.