DEAD LIONS by Mick Herron, Book Review

Mick Herron’s Dead Lions won the 2013 CWA Gold Dagger Award and now adapted into Season 2 of the critically acclaimed TV Series, Slow Horses.

Mick Herron Dead Lions  Dead Lions Mick Herron

Dead Lions Synopsis:

Book 2 Jackson Lamb Thrillers

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?

(First published by Soho Press 2013, republished by John Murray 2017)

Genre: Action, Crime-Thriller, Drama, Mystery

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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?

This 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 in 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 people. 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?”

Wonderful sense of irony

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 midsection (which the ending more than made up for). Plus, two female characters with similar-sounding names. 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. 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  — Overall 4.25

Get your copy of Dead Lions from:

Amazon | Bookshop US | Booktopia AU

We have also since reviewed Book 2.5 The List and Book 3 Real Tigers in this bestselling series, and Mick Herron’s standalone thriller The Secret Hours.

About the Author, Mick Herron

Mick Herron is a novelist and short-story writer whose books include the Jackson Lamb series, the first of which – the Steel-Dagger nominated Slow Horses – has been described as the ‘most enjoyable British spy novel in years’. The second Jackson Lamb novel, Dead Lions, won the 2013 CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, and was picked by the Sunday Times as one of the best 25 crime novels of the past five years. Mick was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and now lives in Oxford.

Other reviews of Dead Lions

“Recommended without hesitation for anyone who enjoys a fast-paced, funny read that folds crime fiction and espionage into one.” — CrimeFictionLover

“The complex plot drags a bit in the middle, as Herron gets quite a number of balls in the air, but once he does, the narrative picks up real steam and becomes genuinely thrilling. The novel is equally noteworthy for its often lyrical prose.” — Publishers Weekly

“Herron provides a dour, twisty spy thriller with something for everyone: part post–Cold War miasma, part James Bond heroics, and elliptical withal.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Mick Herron has breathed new lie into the landscape of the espionage novel. I haven’t breezed through a series of books this quickly in a long, long time.” — Written By Sime

* Receiving this title free from Soho Press did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions above.