Joe Country by Mick Herron

Joe Country is the sixth book in Mick Herron's brilliant Jackson Lamb series, about a group of M15 agents ('joes') who have, for one reason or another, been relegated to desk jobs at Slough House, a decaying outpost in an office above a Chinese takeaway. Presiding over this group, known in the service as the slow horses, is Jackson Lamb, a singularly unpleasant, physically revolting veteran of the Cold War and a constant thorn in the side of his superiors at Regent's Park, as the secret service HQ is known.

I've reviewed the previous books in the series so I won't go too much into what's happened to get us to the point at which Joe Country begins. However, I do think any reader would benefit from starting this series at the beginning with Slow Horses. Each book is a great thriller in its own right, but there are ongoing storylines and recurring characters that won't make much sense unless you read them in the right order - plus, the later books have major spoilers for the earlier ones. Don't be put off, though, and do make the effort - the whole series is excellent and you'll want to race through it once you start.

Joe Country starts with the funeral of David Cartwright, a former agent himself and grandfather of River Cartwright, who for reasons not entirely his own fault has fallen from grace to become a slow horse. Watching the funeral, which is heaving with current and former spies, is a mysterious American who has history with the slow horses in general, but none more than River. Meanwhile, Louisa Guy is startled to be approached by the ex-wife of a now dead agent with whom Louisa has history of her own, hoping for Louisa's help in tracking down her errant teenage son.

There's also a new slow horse in Lamb's stable. Analyst Lech Wicinski has been caught with child abuse images on his laptop - which he insists he didn't download. So where did the images come from, and who would have wanted to put them there?

As in all the Slough House books, the threads of the story come together in a plot full of action, intrigue and sharp, witty dialogue that's often laugh-out-loud funny. There's political satire - it's not hard to guess who the monstrous former MP Peter Judd might be based on - and the characters are, as always, fully fleshed-out, flaws and all.

Joe Country, like its predecessors,  is a perfect example of a British spy thriller. I'm a little bit worried that it ends in such a way that readers might be forgiven for thinking this could be the end of the slow horses, though: I hope this isn't the last we see of Jackson Lamb.

[The publisher of Joe Country, John Murray Ltd, gave me a free copy via NetGalley for me to review. I wasn't paid for this post and these are my own, honest views on the book.]