Dead Lions Synopsis
London’s Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted any more. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle-not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there — even if it means having to collaborate with one another.
Now the slow horses have a chance at redemption. An old Cold War-era spy is found dead on a bus outside Oxford, far from his usual haunts. The despicable, irascible Jackson Lamb is convinced Dickie Bow was murdered. As the agents dig into their fallen comrade’s circumstances, they uncover a shadowy tangle of ancient Cold War secrets that seem to lead back to a man named Alexander Popov, who is either a Soviet bogeyman or the most dangerous man in the world. How many more people will have to die to keep those secrets buried?
I was an unabashed fan of the British TV series Spooks and will admit to having enjoyed an episode or two of the slightly less cool but charming TV series New Tricks. Add to that my penchant for satire and humour on the darker side, and it seems Mick Herron’s latest novel Dead Lions was made for me.
What better ingredients for a novel than spies that have been placed on the scrap heap with career redemption on their minds and axes to grind?
Dead Lions, the second novel from Mick Herron featuring the ‘slow horses’ centres around their seemingly apathetic and much maligned section leader Jackson Lamb.
Nothing in his physical appearance suggested Lamb could move quickly, but something about his presence suggested you’d be unwise to dismiss the possibility. He watched this calculation crawl across the weasel’s face, and, while it was struggling to its conclusion, yawned ferociously. When lions yawn, it doesn’t mean they’re tired. It means they’re waking up.
Lamb is slovenly and his sarcastic tirades and public disparagement of his staff are so outrageous and non-PC that you cannot help but laugh. The beauty of the character Jackson Lamb is similar to that of the lead character of another wonderful British TV series The Thick Of It, the perpetually angry Malcolm Tucker.
But Jackson Lamb is not the only tough cookie within a business that self-selects for such characters. His Regent Park counterpart, Lady Di Taverner, is not a woman to be messed with either.
The sensible thing would be to torch him here and now, she thought. Thirty seconds of verbal creosote, and he’d leave sooty footprints all the way back to his office, and never have an idea again. That was the sensible thing, and she was mentally turning her flame up high when she heard herself say, “Who else knows about this?”
But Dead Lions holds greater value than simply its humour. In addition to the many characters’ very modern and entertaining screw-ups and ingenious plot entanglements, the novel exudes a wonderful sense of irony and world weary wisdom that comes to the fore just when it’s needed. And thankfully, Dead Lions does not have a Disney-ending, so we can look forward to more from this ragtag bunch in the future.
If this novel has a weakness it was a slackening in pace in its mid-section which the ending more than made up for and two female characters with similar sounding names that I confused on occasion. Herron’s prose was a delight to read though, with a literary turn of phrase never far away.
Catherine had had edges once, but for years had lived a life whose borders were marked by furriness.
On the strength of Mick Herron’s writing in Dead Lions I am tempted to go back and read some of his earlier works, and I look forward to his next novel featuring the ‘slow horses’ of Slough House.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Genre: Action, Crime-Thriller, Drama, Mystery
Author Information: Mick Herron was born in Newcastle and has a degree in English from Balliol College, Oxford. He is the author of two books in the River Cartwright series, Slow Horses and Dead Lions, as well as a mystery series set in Oxford. He now lives in Oxford and works in London.
- Free first chapter excerpt of Dead Lions is available on SohoPress.com
* Receiving this title free from Soho Press did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.