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How I survived lockdown and a dental disaster*

July 30, 2021

In January 2020, when coronavirus was something in Wuhan, China and the biggest news in the western world was Harry and Meghan dropping out of the royal family, I discovered Mick Herron, author of a series of spy novels.

I cannot emphasise enough the role Herron and his novels played in keeping me sane, first through lockdown, then through an abscess the size of a ping pong ball in my mouth that led eventually to the unwelcome news that one of my front teeth had to go.

The novels are set largely in a dilapidated building in London, Slough House.

If you work for MI5, the domestic spy agency, and you screw up badly, but still have some juice (some reason you cannot be fired outright), you are dispatched to Slough House where you will be assigned tasks of such mind numbing tedium the hope is you will eventually break down and quit. 

The name of the building lends itself to the MI5 nickname for its inhabitants: the Slow Horses. (Also the name of the first book in the series.) Overseeing – with gusto – the demoralisation of the screw ups and burn outs is the inimitable Jackson Lamb, who may very well now be my all-time favourite fictional character. If Jackson Lamb doesn’t make you laugh out loud, I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong with you.

There is, of course, life in the slow horses yet, for it is they, not the “professionals” at MI5, who foil the plots and – largely without credit – save the day in the series of seven novels and three novellas. (Normally I think novellas are cheats and never indulge the authors, but Herron is so good I’ve also bought and read these.) 

When I introduced Herron to the Bad Girls Book Club last year, I was astonished that some members dismissed his writing as “too clever”. (As if such a thing is possible.) But I also made a number of converts, as I have done with many other reader friends in the past year.

Whilst urging everyone to check out the series, I should also issue a warning. Don’t get too attached to the characters, as Herron has a penchant for killing them off. With the exception of Jackson and (probably) two other characters, no one seems to be safe.

Do yourself a favour and check in at Slough House.

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* Latest Bad Girls Book Club review for the Arts Council newsletter. Couldn’t resist giving Mick Herron another boost.

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