Magazine article The Spectator

'Spook Street', by Mick Herron - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Spook Street', by Mick Herron - Review

Article excerpt

It's good to be back in Spook Street, home of the nation's secret service. From a handful of locations across London, its dedicated employees struggle ceaselessly against the nation's enemies, when not otherwise engaged in scratching each other's backs or scratching each other's eyes out.

Spook Street is Mick Herron's fourth novel in the series, and like its predecessors its focus is the activities of the 'slow horses', the Service's rejects. Their records irredeemably blotted by past transgressions, these men and women have been despatched to Slough House, a small but hideous office block near the Barbican, where they are condemned to spend the rest of their careers engaged on the sort of tasks that Kafka might have invented for Sisyphus.

Presiding over this bureaucratic gulag is Jackson Lamb, one of the most reliably disgusting characters in modern fiction. At one point, in one of those bravura flourishes that make this series such a pleasure, Lamb is described as 'surveying his slow horses... the way a battery farmer might inspect his chickens'.

The story begins when a flash mob of innocent teenagers assembles at Westacres, an enormous retail dome in west London, just in time to form part of the bloodbath that follows a terrorist explosion. Meanwhile, one slow horse, River Cartwright, is wrestling with a personal problem in the shape of his grandfather, the Old Bastard, a former Service legend who is now flirting with dementia. What do you do with a retired spy when his brain begins to disintegrate? …

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