Real Tigers - Mick Herron
Real Tigers - Mick Herron *****
Welcome to the shadowy nether regions of the British secret service. No, not the high-flying, glamorous licenced to kill types, but rather the drones who do all the basic administration, cataloguing, storing, retrieving and crunching data. There's low and there's low however and if you're a 'slow horse' working in Slough House, as you might know from Mick Herron's previous two novels in the series, your career has taken a turn for the worst and is unlikely to see any improvement. Can't be the most exciting job to have in MI5, you'd think, but you'd be surprised how dangerous office politics can be in such a place.
Misfits, losers, recovering alcoholics, agents whose operations have taken an unfortunate turn of events that they haven't recovered from; all of them seem to end up in Slough House. But they are still intelligence and they aren't stupid, even if they act like it sometimes. Take Catherine Standish for instance in Real Tigers. She's struggling to beat the bottle and her boss of Slough House, Charles Lamb isn't making the task an easy one, but any means. When Catherine is lifted off the street, it seems to be a miscalculation on the part of the kidnappers, as a slow horse being abducted surely isn't going to pull much leverage in Whitehall.
Her colleagues are quick to respond however, and you'd be surprised by their ingenuity, their ability to handle weapons, and their awareness of the kind of political and career manoeuvring that is mixed up in it all. All I'll say is that events escalate rapidly, the bodies start to mount up and there's a bit of a bloodbath for a conclusion that results in back covering, cover-ups and fallbacks into positions of deniability and mutual standoff - or simply keeping the knowledge won in reserve for a time when it might be more profitably used as a threat. Mick Herron's plotting is rivetting, keeping you on your toes for all the twists and turns, political shenanigans, potential scandals, double-dealing and backstabbing. What more can you ask for from a good spook novel?
Well, the writing is also devilishly clever and witty. It's clever enough that it manages to keep it real-world, office politics related, principally through the setting of such high-flown adventures in the lower orders of the secret service, but also with some knowing references to current familiar political situations and personalities. It will leave you under no illusion either as to the amount of data out there being gathered, and the kind of use it can be put to with a few simple connections. Real Tigers is witty in that Herron has a terrific ear for dialogue and characterisation. Every exchange of words between characters is explosive, loaded with hidden meanings, insults and putdowns that are usually matched by a highly original comeback or parry on every page. Talk about rapid response.
Such is the strength of the characterisation and the huge amount of information that is revealed through such exchanges that you won't need to have read any of the previous books in the Slough House series to get the most out of Real Tigers, but - like me - if you read this first, you'll definitely be going out and looking for the first two books in the series.
Real Tigers by Mick Herron is published by Soho Crime and is on sale now.