The third interstitial Slough House novella, Mick Herron’s The Catch (2020), once again stars John Bachelor. Bachelor isn’t a “Slow Horse,” but he certainly could be, a hanger-on in the security service whose unillustrious career has left him near destitute; his menial job as a “milkman” involves keeping tabs on retired agents, and since his divorce, it hasn’t come close to paying the bills. Bachelor is so desperate, he’s currently squatting in the apartment of a deceased former joe, for whom he served as case officer. He never told the service about his unorthodox living arrangements, of course, but they find him there anyway; that is, two disreputable rogue agents do, and proceed to blackmail him into tracking down another of Bachelor’s charges who has gone missing. Back against the wall, Bachelor bumbles his way through the task, unsure whose directions he’s following or their ultimate aims. But is his under-duress mission a legitimate operation or a shady scam?
The Slough House series is magnificent without them, but the Bachelor novellas may be their secret sauce, adding delightful lore and depth in the form of clandestine, backstage connective tissue. John Bachelor is every bit as hapless as the Slow Horses, a one-step-removed kindred spirit whose story is so pathetic even the merciless Jackson Lamb might take pity on him. Herron animates him with his usual witty elan, and as usual, the plotting is tight and frictionless, propelling the reader through a short, satisfying maze. In fact, the author’s talent for facile-looking structure may be even more impressive at this length. For someone who writes so much about failure, Herron sure makes a successful job of it.