Spook Street by Mick Herron

Image result for spook streetSpook Street is the fourth and latest book in Mick Herron's Slough House series and I might as well start by saying that I think it's my favourite of them all.

It begins with a suicide bombing in a shopping mall, but the bomber doesn't fit the profile you might expect and his motive isn't clear. Needless to say, Jackson Lamb's team of secret service 'slow horses', a bunch of incompetent misfits shunted off to a rundown satellite office next to a Chinese restaurant and assigned pointless, monotonous desk jobs, aren't allowed anywhere near the subsequent investigation, but while the rest of MI5 are focused on the Westacres bombing, Lamb receives a call to identify a body. A young man has been found dead at the home of David Cartwright, a high-ranking agent from the days of the Cold War and the elderly grandfather of River Cartwright, one of Lamb's team. 'The OB' - Old Bastard - has been showing signs of dementia, but has he really shot his grandson while in the grip of paranoid confusion?

The occasionally satirical tone, witty dialogue and the Machiavellian internal MI5 politics we've come to expect from the Slough House series are all present, but the characters are also extremely well-drawn - even the newest slow horse, JK Coe, a man so dysfunctional that he refuses to speak and uses his desk as an imaginary piano, feels remarkably real, and for all their (considerable) faults, it's impossible not to care about the utterly obnoxious Lamb and his team.

I should reiterate what I've said in my reviews of the previous books in this series: if you're looking for the slick, glamorous world of James Bond, or even Spooks, you won't get that here. Spook Street is set in a world of offices with stained carpets, bus travel, cheap sandwiches and Eurotunnel. Its characters are all without exception failures on one level or another, complete with various addictions, personality defects and mundane financial worries. The arena in which the slow horses operate is unwaveringly down-at-heel, which for me is absolutely key to the series' appeal and is particularly evident in this instalment.

Spook Street has an absolute belter of a plot with some cracking twists. It's impossible to give many details without spoilers, but it's enough to say that the basic premise is both clever and highly original - and chillingly sinister at times. The pace gathers as the story unfolds and builds to a nailbiting climax. It's brilliant stuff and I hope there will be many more books to come in this gripping and original spy series.

My thanks to Yassine Belkacemi of John Murray Press, who kindly provided me with an advance copy of Spook Street for an honest review.