25) London Rules by Mick Herron
If you like spy thrillers or crime, and also enjoy a wry smile and some sharp, sardonic wit, then you have probably already read the first four of the Mick Herron-penned Slough House series. At this point, reading one of these feels like the literary equivalent of having a pint with an old friend in a pub with a roaring fire.
It is the characters, and their evolving relationships, that make it such fun. Jackson Lamb, the chain-smoking, chain-farting boss who has an uncanny knack of being smarter than all of them, masked by his offensiveness; Catherine Standish, who is the adult in the room, even as she tries to contain her own demons; River Cartwright, grappling with a past he didn’t want to inherit, and a present he keeps buggering up; and Louisa, Shirley, Roddy and JK Coe all bring their own foibles and flaws, which include (variously) a cocaine habit, complete lack of self-awareness, and borderline psychopathy.
The plot is much more fantastical, involving as it does a massacre (beautifully, misleadingly written) which is the opening gambit in a series of set pieces, all escalating to a dramatic finale. I loved the ineptitude of the ‘terror cell’, which reminded me a bit of the film Four Lions, and also thoroughly enjoyed the internal politicking of the secret services. There’s plenty of disbelief to be suspended, but I heartily recommend you do.
There’s also some lovely Brexit-related sideswipes, a Farage-esque figure, and some pithy distillations of our current modern malaise – all delivered with the lightness of touch, and tongue-in-cheek dryness which Herron has proved to be a master of. Excellent entertainment – roll on number 6, Joe Country, in 2020.
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