Book review: The Drop by Mick Herron

The Drop - Mick Herron
****

Billed as 'a Slough House novella' (what happened to the 'Jackson Lamb' series?), The Drop doesn't feature any of the regular Slough House crew, but it does introduce a few other bottom of the heap and dumped-upon minor operatives for the British Intelligence who are about to discover what happens when you upset Lady Di Taverner and start poking around in corners where you've no business being.

John Bachelor's only valuable contribution is that he has recruited an agent from the BND - Bundesnachrichtendienst - German Intelligence, although she might not be aware that she is officially an agent or may actually be a double agent. Or even a triple agent in that very left-hand not knowing the right hand way of intelligence services in these "friendly nation" times that Herron has been exploiting to tremendous effect in his Jackson Lamb novels. Bringing real world stupidity into the supposed prestige world of authorities like the national Intelligence services is however something that we've become used to now with politicians in edge of Brexit UK.

Bachelor's problems however are more to do with the everyday impracticalities of living and working in London, a recognisable circumstance that applies to many and which Herron observes with his usual flourishes of colourful metaphor - "his credit cards has been thrashed to within an inch of their lives, they'd combust in the daylight like vampires". Worse still, Bachelor has to put up with supposedly retired spooks like Solomon Dortmund who can't put old habits aside and want to report what they think is an actual physical "drop" taking place in a London Viennese cafe. It's a bit old-school, as if the digital age and encryption technologies hadn't made such operations redundant, not to mention risky and obvious, but John decides it's better to check it out.

The Drop is not your regular Mick Herron Jackson Lamb/Slough House story. It has the same satirical touch on the spy game and it has the same cruel twists of fortune and backstabbing and back covering that we are familiar with, and yes it looks like there is another candidate likely to end up with the unhappy bunch of misfits in Slough House, filling a gap in their rapidly diminishing number after business in the last few books. Without the regular team however it lacks the biting humour and the brutal one-line put-downs that fly between them, the tone a little more sober this time in the style of Nobody Walks.

Which would be fine if Herron developed The Drop along similar lines to that earlier Slough House standalone, but The Drop is a just a tiding-over novella. At just over 100 pages it's actually more of a long short story that introduces a few new characters, but it feels curtailed, restrained in the author's expected humour and the usual flow of poetic touches, coming to much too abrupt a conclusion just as it seems it's getting into his stride. It's always great to see Herron operating in this world however and if that stride carries him through to the next Slough House/Jackson Lamb thriller, well then I think many will happily settle for this little warm-up.

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