Real Tigers by Mick Herron, Review: Dark farce thriller with bite

In Real Tigers (Jackson Lamb #3) Mick Herron takes his trademark literary flair and dark comedy to a whole other level. His best book yet.

Shortlisted for the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, and now adapted into Season 3 of the critically acclaimed TV Series, Slow Horses.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron book cover - spy in shadow on escalatorReal Tigers Synopsis

Catherine Standish knows that chance encounters never happen to spooks. She’s worked in the Intelligence Service long enough to understand treachery, double-dealing and stabbing in the back.

What she doesn’t know is why anyone would target her: a recovering drunk pushing paper with the other lost causes in Jackson Lamb’s kingdom of exiles at Slough House.

Whoever it is holding her hostage, it can’t be personal. It must be about Slough House. Most likely, it is about Jackson Lamb.

And say what you like about Lamb, he’ll never leave a joe in the lurch. He might even be someone you could trust with your life . . .

(Hachette Australia)

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime-Detective, Action

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Originally released in 2016, this bestseller from Mick Herron (Book 3, Jackson Lamb Thrillers) has recently been republished by imprint John Murray in striking, moody cover art befitting ‘the punch’ contained within their pages.

I’d been looking forward to reading Real Tigers for some time. Having already enjoyed Books 2 and 2.5 in this series, Dead Lions and novella The List, I understood why the Mail on Sunday named it “finest new crime series this millennium”. What better ingredients for a series than spies that have been placed on the scrap heap with career redemption on their minds and axes to grind?

Mick Herron’s trademark mix of literary flair and deliciously dark comedy is on full display.

Despite the prose never feeling rushed, he sets a cracking pace.  The narrative always third person omnipresent (at times ghost-like) but alternating between different character viewpoints. It’s a constantly moving feast, a narrative that balances sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury. The prose is peppered with ironic observations of the mundane,

There were buses heading in both directions, and a cyclist who, judging by his disregard for other vehicles, had an organ donor card and was in a hurry to use it…

to those of a political and snide nature

‘Dame Ingrid,’ he said now, as she entered his office.

‘Home Secretary.”

“I’ve taken the liberty.” Which sounded like a bullet-point summary of his Home Office tenure to date, but was in fact a reference to the tea tray on a nearby table.

Real Tigers Book Quote, Mick Herron - The public was like one of those huge Pacific jellyfish; one enormous pulsating mass of indifference, drifting wherever the current carried it.

and much broader, world-weary attitude.

Beware of those with nothing to lose

In Real Tigers Jackson Lamb’s dysfunctional team face a threat much closer to home. And to all the puppet masters, beware of those you under-estimate (or humiliate). Lamb’s screw-ups are not afraid to colour outside of the lines — because really, what have they got to lose?

I’m not normally one for visual comedy, but Herron sets up some hilariously farcical scenes in this instalment. These laugh-out-loud moments deepen our connection/engagement with those relegated to Slough House, serving as digestives for the viciousness of both Lamb’s verbal assaults and the swift and violent ends those deemed dispensable meet.

Why all the food metaphors? No reason – there is minimal discussion of food in this novel, more of tea and alcohol. But what Real Tigers does have in spades is intrigue, suspense, humour and bite. The best Herron novel I’ve read yet.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Get your copy of Real Tigers, Jackson Lamb Thriller #3 from:

Amazon Bookshop US Booktopia AU

Reading Update: I have also now read Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours (2023).

About the Author, Mick Herron

Mick Herron’s first Jackson Lamb novel, Slow Horses, was described as the ‘most enjoyable British spy novel in years’ by the Mail on Sunday and picked as one of the best twenty spy novels of all time by the Daily Telegraph. The second, Dead Lions, won the 2013 CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger. The third, Real Tigers, was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, and both the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. The fourth, Spook Street, was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and won the Steel Dagger. London Rules is the fifth.

He has also written a series starring Zoe Boehm and other standalone novels, including the recently released This Is What Happened. Mick Herron was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, and now lives in Oxford.

* Receiving a copy of Real Tigers for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.