MI5’s Slough House spies uncover a decades-old conspiracy

Spook Street by Mick HerronSlough House spies: Spook Street by Mick HerronSpook Street (Slough House #5) by Mick Herron

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

In a television series, the denizens of Mick Herron’s Slough House series would be known as an “ensemble cast.” From one episode (or book) to the next, the same characters keep appearing,, playing their expected roles. Typically, on TV, none of these characters leaves the scene, unless an actor decides to depart for better terms elsewhere or an idiosyncratic author elects to retire a character for reasons of her own. But Slough House is not like that. Characters die. The ensemble cast mutates from book to book. And that’s a good thing, since it keeps readers guessing.

In Spook Street, the fifth novel in the series, five of the original cast soldier on: Jackson Lamb, the obnoxious old spook who runs the place with a heavy hand; River Cartwright, grandson of the legendary spymaster David “Old Bastard (the O.B.)” Cartwright; Catherine Standish, the alcoholic secretary to MI5’s late, disgraced former Director General and now Lamb’s assistant; clueless computer hacker Roderick Ho, who knows all the secrets that brought his colleagues to Slough House’s version of purgatory for British spies; and Louisa Guy, “who Ho couldn’t look at without thinking of a pressure cooker, steam coming out of her ears.” The other characters who had labored at make-work projects in the house at the series’ outset are gone. Mostly dead and gone. Even Catherine has left. Retired.

Spook Street opens with two entirely new characters in the house: a young man who looks capable of mass murder and an officious new office manager. It’s a new day at Slough House—and not a good one. Roddy Ho is fantasizing about his new girlfriend, who has yet to accommodate him with promised favors. River Cartwright is terrified about his grandfather, the O.B., who is rapidly slipping into dementia—and whose head is full of dangerous agency secrets going back decades. Marcus Longridge, who joined the crew in an earlier novel, is about to lose his house and his family because of his gambling addiction. Louisa Guy can barely be restrained from snapping the neck of anyone who gets close to her. Shirley Dander (another relative newcomer) is in a fog from booze and cocaine, as usual. And, even stranger, Jackson Lamb is nowhere to be found.

Oh, and a suicide bomber has just murdered hundreds of young people he had attracted to a London plaza by organizing a flash mob. No, these are not good days for Slough House or MI5.

Then things start to get really funky.

Like the four novels that preceded it, Spook Street is engagingly written, suspenseful to a fault, and often very, very funny. I loved the book.

In addition to the five novels to date in the Slough House series, British mystery and thriller writer Mick Herron has written five other novels.

Previously, I reviewed the first book in the Slough House series, Slow Horses (British satire about misfit spies in MI5); the second, Dead Lions (Russian sleeper agents and the misfits of MI5); the third, a novella, The List (Bumbling spies again in Mick Herron’s Slough House series); and the fourth, Real Tigers (Slough House spooks are on the loose again). You may also be interested in reading about My 10 favorite espionage novels.

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Mal Warwick

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