London Rules - Mick Herron
London Rules - Mick Herron ****
"Recent years had seen a recalibration of political lunacy", Mick Herron observes quite early on in London Rules and, watching our political leaders on the TV News most nights, you'd begin to worry that, like political satire elsewhere, Herron's Jackson Lamb/Slough House series might lose something of an edge in what has up to now managed to be both uproariously funny and deadly serious. In the real world, the balance hasn't always been quite as favourable.
Mick Herron then has no option but to introduce a few more lunatics into London Rules in addition to the cognitively challenged crew in the dump heap of the Secret Service in Slough House. They however all have good reasons why they've ended up monitoring library records across the country for anyone reading "extremist literature" or cross-checking electoral rolls against properties as an unlikely way of listing potential terrorist safe houses; incompetence, personality failings and various addictions. While not valued in the Secret Service, there are careers where such qualities could be considered an advantage; notably politics, being Prime Minister of the UK or President of the United States.
Mick Herron's recalibration of the limits of political lunacy in London Rules however include a Nigel Farage-influenced character, who loves to keep himself in the limelight and has recently been instrumental in swaying public opinion over to favouring a self-destructive Brexit in a recent referendum. He has a Katie Hopkins/Sarah Vine-like wife, Dodie, who writes inflammatory articles that further Dennis's political aspirations, and at present the target of their ire is a popular Muslim politician close to the PM, who they intent to denounce for apparent connections to terrorism.
There's another kind of political lunacy that has become more immediate even since the last Jackson Lamb novel, Spook Street, and that's the frequency of terror attacks on the streets of the UK. There's a terrorist unit operating in this latest book, following a plan that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense - from wiping out a small village in Derbyshire to blowing up penguins in an enclosure at the zoo - but perhaps their most unfathomable action is an attempted hit to take out Roderick Ho, one of Jackson Lamb's unhappy little team in Slough House.
Now, anyone who has read previous Jackson Lamb books will understand the implications of that revelation and connected it optimistically to the fact that Slough House personnel have a tendency to get whacked every now and again - but I would caution against getting your hopes up just yet. For the uninitiated, Roderick Ho is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of an arsehole, but a useful one, since he is also something of a wizard on the computer. Unfortunately both those characteristics come into play here, and clearly Roderick Ho has hacked into somewhere he shouldn't have. The fact that he has been boasting of dating a hot Asian girlfriend Kim should also have raised not just disbelief, but suspicion, but then, the Slough House crew aren't called 'slow horses' for nothing.
That's the plot of London Rules in very basic outline. To say much more would be to spoil the delights, thrills, spills and twists of that follow, although the real delights are not so much in the plotting and satire as principally in Herron's writing, in the language, in the humour and in the profanity-laden and politically incorrect one-liners generously scattered throughout. The insight into the ways of the political mindset, manoeuvring is just as acute as ever, Herron refining them into the unwritten 'London rules' where rule one is "cover your arse". Speaking of which, Jackson Lamb is as foul as ever, and is actually a lot more active than his pestilent corpulent form usually permits. Then again, he's particularly challenged in this latest adventure when the actions of his staff result in an accidental death that takes their incompetence to a new level.
While there's still a great deal to enjoy in Mick Herron's wicked satire of the UK political establishment and the intelligence services, it does appear that the Jackson Lamb series has slowed down a little here, or, as I speculated at the start of the review, it could be a case where the absurdity and turmoil in current world affairs is really far beyond anything even Mick Herron could parody. If you've been following the series, London Rules might not register as much of an impact as some of the previous books - you can't whack a major character in the series every book, although Herron certainly tries - but another visit to Slough House is always welcome and it's still more comedy and up-to-the minute satire than just about anything else out there. Apart from what the UK government are giving us in real-life, of course.
London Rules (Jackson Lamb 5) by Mick Herron is published by John Murray on 15th February 2018