Slow Horses

Slow HorsesSlow Horses by Mick Herron
Series: Slough House #1
Publisher: Soho Crime
Released: June 1, 2010
Pages: 320
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The first book in CWA Gold Dagger Award-winning British espionage series starring a team of MI5 agents united by one common bond: They've screwed up royally and will do anything to redeem themselves.

London, England: 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 anymore. 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.

River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations. When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.

Slow Horses is the first in a series about the employees of Slough House, a branch of MI5 for employees who have made a mess of something or other in their careers. In theory, the idea is that they should be sitting around doing nothing until they get bored and quit… but, who would have thunk it? In Slow Horses they get something to do!

The premise of Slough House is strange, and it takes a little while before it stops being strange. Quite a few pages pass before anything starts becoming particularly interesting, but eventually having a main cast where everyone has been disgraced in some way is a wonderful device. This necessarily means that everyone has something they want to hide, something to be ashamed of, and potentially something to prove. This makes for some great, gradual, character-building, and an establishing of relationships between these outcasts that shows a lot of promise for the later books in the series.

As for the plot, I think I may just need some training, or maybe acclimatisation, to the way the story is told in this kind of spy-novel. I’ve thought before that “I want to be the kind of person who really loves a John le Carré novel”. By extension, I feel that I need to be the kind of person who really gets on board with a book like Slow Horses, because, as with the le Carré novels I’ve read, this book stopped at “I liked it”, and didn’t cross over into feeling great. Slow Horses does have a few, really good, “Things are happening now” scenes which are thrilling, but a lot of the story that ties the plot points together is told in a way where the book doesn’t really signal whether whatever is going on is important or not. It requires more concentration and effort than I’m used to, but I suspect I’ll start enjoying it much more once I get used to it.

Overall, Slow Horses was enjoyable, and seems like a solid start to a series that I suspect I will enjoy.

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