@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
MI5 officer John Bachelor has already been put out to pasture, in a manner of speaking. For some time now, it’s been his job to track several former foreign assets who have retired to England. Then one of them, Dieter Hess, suddenly dies—and John has a problem. A big problem. Diana Taverner, a Deputy Director at MI5, corners him at Hess’ wake and explains why he can’t just forget about poor Dieter, even though the old man has clearly died of natural causes. As she lays down John’s new assignment, he starts “to get an inkling of how mice felt, and other little jungle residents. The kind preyed on by snakes.”
Here’s John’s problem: Taverner, known as “Lady Di,” explains that “assets, even retired assets, even dead assets, fall on my desk. Which means I do not want the Dogs sniffing around this [in an internal investigation], because it makes me look bad.” John now fears being relegated to Slough House, where the agency’s misfits and royal screw-ups are sequestered with make-work assignments. But Lady Di makes it clear that John’s fate could be worse.
Luckily for John, when he tears up Dieter’s apartment in search of evidence that might point to something problematic, he comes across a list of names. Alone, he can’t track down the people on the list. But, commandeering a newly trained officer and others inside MI5, he learns that everyone on the list is well past their sell-by dates (as my British friends might say). Most are in nursing homes, and several living in various stages of dementia—except for one young woman. Dieter had been presenting them all as his assets and collecting subsidies in their names from the German intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst. Following direction from Jackson Lamb, the notorious director of Slough House, John can now proceed with a clever plan: to “turn” the young woman into a double agent to pass along disinformation to the Germans.
Will all this go well? Since this little novella was written by Mick Herron, we shouldn’t expect anything of the sort. Like Slough Horses and Dead Lions, two novels that preceded The List in Herron’s Slough House series, we know the story will twist and turn—and keep us laughing all the way.
My review of Slow Horses, the first entry in the series, is at British satire about misfit spies in MI5. The second, Dead Lions, is at Russian sleeper agents and the misfits of MI5. You may also be interested in reading about My 10 favorite espionage novels.