Sunday, October 24, 2010

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

It's the scope of spy novels that I admire, as well as the political questions they  often raise. What's more, these days I seem to read more and more of them: Charles McCarry; Le Carré; though the spy novel I've enjoyed the most over the past few months has been Mick Herron's Slow Horses. Herron doesn't shy away from contemporary politics or the state of the intelligence service. A Brit whose previous work has mostly been more oriented towards detective fiction, Herron's novel is reminiscent of the Brit TV series Spooks. Like the TV series, Slow Horses concerns a factional element within MI5. But, if anything, it's darker,  better written, and even more cynical and entertaining than Spooks. The title, Slow Horses, refers to agents exiled through misdeed, error or mishap, destined to spend their time carrying out meaningless tasks in an anonymous building miles away from MI5 headquarters. Here the plot revolves around the kidnapping of a young Muslim and the Slow Horses' gradual involvement and problematical, not to mention competitive, relationship to the more mainstream members of the intelligence service.  Tightly written in a stripped down,  hardboiled format, Slow Horses portrays contemporary Britain in an unflinching manner. It also has numerous plot twists,  even switching protagonists at various points in the narrartive. Though one would be correct in thinking Herron's attitude to the intelligence community is cynical, the novel is the perfect companion to the events surrounding the 2005 shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at the Stockwell tube station by the Metropolitan police, weeks after the 7/7 bombings. Moreover Slow Horses ends with the suggestion that Herron might  have a sequel in mind, and, if he does, I'll  definitely be reading it.

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