Novel: London Rules by Mick Herron

How long can an open-ended series stay fresh and original? When it comes to Mick Herron’s Slough House series, I’m buckled in to find out. Volume five of the series is London Rules (2018), and if the author’s literary tricks have grown more recognizable, there’s still more than enough energy, humor, and originality to keep the train rolling.

In the increasingly absurd post-Brexit world of London, the impossible happens: somebody carries out an assassination attempt on Slough House’s contemptible IT expert, Roderick Ho. The question, of course, isn’t who has the motive; literally everyone hates Ho. But why would anyone bother? Less out of concern for Ho than idle curiosity, the bored, exiled spies of Slough House stumble into action: first, to give themselves something to do, and later—when their collective speculations miraculously suss out a terrorist threat—to fulfill their long-stifled desires to protect the nation.

If the Slough House books need to push their luck at this stage, it’s in the plotting arena. After all, the entire notion of an office full of ostracized rejects being at the center of world-shaking spy thrillers is inherently antithetical. Then again, so what? Herron’s world is positively optimized for both repetition and evolution, a milieu designed both to drum out old and welcome new has-beens and never-weres. The way Jackson Lamb and his outcasts find themselves in the midst of important events requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but once past that hurdle, their position on the margins situate them perfectly for commentary on the genre the series both executes and satirizes. Herron clearly loves these characters, and underneath the venomous banter of their workplace, he comes at them from a place of empathy. Oh, he over-indulges in the pure nastiness of Lamb and Roddy Ho—clearly enjoying himself as he does so—but with his broken heroes, like River Cartwright and Louisa Guy, he clearly has a soft spot. Slough House may be the island of misfit toys, but they’re still toys, and Herron plays with them gleefully. It’s impossible not to get behind them when they leap awkwardly into action, usually going against their better instincts, or succumbing to their worse ones. The results, here as ever, are smart, acerbic, effortlessly read, and blisteringly funny. Still loads of petrol in the tank, as far as I can see.

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