Slough House is where MI5 stables its Slow Horses, screw-ups assigned soul-destroying make-work tasks designed to drive them to resign from the service, Except each of them believes that, one day, they’ll earn their way out of Slough House. That unlikely hope keeps them working at pointless tasks that verge on self-harm.
The atmosphere in Slough House, this purgatory for fallen spies, reaks of quiet desperation sustained through sheer bloodymindedness in the face of failure, weakness and disregard. In that respect, the Slough house books are quintessentially English.
“Real Tigers” starts with the abduction of one of the Slough House crew and rapidly escalates into a situation which could end Slough House and bring the Intelligence community under the close control of Home Secretary Judd, an unscrupulous right winger, with his eye on the premiership who is willing to do anything to advance his career.
Where it not for the fact the Boris Johnson is indirectly referred to in the book, one might think that Judd, this clown-on-the-outside-elitist-narcissistic-sociopath-on-the-inside character was Boris under a different name.
Although the plot is clever, the pace is tense, the action is vivid and violent and the . contemporary politics is convincing and provocative, the reason I enjoy these books is the quality of Mick Herron’s writing which has the same dank smell as a London Underground stairwell on a Sunday morning. He manages perfectly to blend the lyrical with the cynical to produce a beaten up, abused-by-its-owner sort of hope.
He describes an online forum for conspiracy theorists or whack jobs as the professionals describe them as a place where:
“the prevailing attitude resembled what you’d get if you spliced the DNA of an only child, a Daily Mail reader and a viciously toxic bacillus: an organism that was self-obsessed, full of pent-up rage, and sprayed poisonous shit everywhere. Symptoms included a tendency to lapse into capitals, the dismissal of all dissent as Establishment toadying, and a blinding ignorance of Occam’s razor.”
He evokes Judd’s character with deft throwaway descriptions of behaviour like:
“Judd worked his way through a train of thought, carriage by carriage.”
and follows up with interior dialogue like Judd telling himself to put his game face on to deal with a situation and then saying to himself:
“Yes, well, anyone who didn’t have a game face for the plebs didn’t deserve their vote in the first place, was Judd’s view. Not that he’d say it out loud, of course—always important to stress that. Never say ‘plebs’ out loud.”
“Real Tigers” is an excellent book to read if you want a spy novel that will make you glad you’re not a spy, make you cheer for the underdog and give you hope that
Boris Judd will get his comeuppance very soon.