Featured image – talented, versatile author Mick Herron.
In prose and dialogue drier than a perfect Martini, SPOOK STREET may have a double O in its title but its tone is more Le Carre and Deighton than Fleming, although there’s the odd nod to Bond, in a sly “What would James do?” way.
These spooks are not strictly MI 5 or MI 6, this bunch is MI sfits and MI istakes.
“Slough House was a branch of the service, certainly, but ‘arm’ was pitching it strong. As was ‘finger’, come to that; fingers could be on the button or the pulse. Fingernails, now; those, you clipped, discarded, and never wanted to see again.”
The series has had a River run through it – River Cartwright – and he’s pretty much front and centre in SPOOK STREET.
Cartwright has an impressive spook pedigree as his grandfather was a legendary Cold Warrior. On his twelfth birthday, River was given the complete works of John Le Carre by his grandfather, David Cartwright, a veteran intelligence officer, also known as the Old Bastard. “They’re made up. But that doesn’t mean they’re untrue” he sagely says to the aspiring spook. River never had a chance of not following in the family business. David Cartwright even shares the same initials as John Le Carre’s real name, David Cornwell.
Now the Old Bastard seems to have succumbed to dementia, his conviction that he is being watched put down as delusional by his grandson. But is it just the plaque of paranoia after a lifetime of cloak and dagger that has caused decay cavity in his mental state? Are there still hot spots from the Cold War that need to be extinguished?
The plot thickens, the body count rises, there’s vehicular thrills, dashes across the Channel, and a ‘Dog” named Emma Flyte who “could have painted a beard on and still sucked up all the local attention.”
Eccentrically engaging and unrelentingly entertaining, SPOOK STREET is sly, funny and occasionally sad with a splenetic turn of phrase worthy of the greatest playwrights.
Master of dialogue is no substitute for mastery of characterisation, however, and, thankfully, Mick Herron is master of both.
His stable of “slow horses” are thoroughbred characters, given exquisite rein in foible and finesse. The leader, Jackson Lamb, is described as Timothy Spall gone to seed, and minds eye casting conjures Anna Chancellor for the Moneypennyish Catherine Standish.
Cash strapped and ostracised from normal operations, -“Back in the day we had the resources we deserve. But the wardrobe department was closed once the Cold War was declared won.” – the denizens of SPOOK STREET must utilise good old fashioned field craft to save the day.
Comic, intelligent writing doesn’t come much better than this, and I’m almost ashamed to say Mick Herron had previously passed under my radar. SPOOK STREET has rectified that and I am now busy devouring its equally splendid predecessors.