Magazine article The Spectator

'Real Tigers', by Mick Herron - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Real Tigers', by Mick Herron - Review

Article excerpt

Most spy novels have a comfortable air of familiarity. We readers can take moles in our stride. We have grown up with cut-outs and dead letter boxes. There's little we don't know about angst-ridden, morally fallible spooks in raincoats and sharp-suited, gun-toting agents in casinos.

Mick Herron, however, takes a different approach from most other espionage writers. Real Tigers is the third novel in his 'Slow Horses' series. Its predecessor, Dead Lions , won the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger as the best crime novel of the year. The Slow Horses are a department made up of MI5 rejects -- officers who have committed gross errors of judgment or made enemies of powerful figures in the organisation. ('Persona non grata ,' muses one character. '...Latin for slow horse.')

These misfits are condemned to a hell of clerical work in the depressing surroundings of Slough House, near London's Barbican, in the hope that the sheer tedium will force them to resign of their own free will. Among them are a cokehead, a compulsive gambler, an alcoholic and a breathtakingly unlovely computer nerd. At their head is Jackson Lamb, a foul-mouthed tyrant whose standards of courtesy and personal hygiene have much in common with those of Superintendent Andy Dalziel, the creation of the late and much lamented Reginald Hill.

The Slow Horses yearn to escape from drudgery and earn their return to the Park, MI5's palatial headquarters in Regent's Park, which glows in their memories like the Celestial City. …

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