Manages to be an exciting and cleverly plotted spy story while at the same time a very funny satire on the incompetent British Secret Service.
He is the grotesque creation of Mick Herron, who introduced us to Lamb in the novel Slow Horses in 2010. London Rules, published this year, is the latest instalment, by turns gripping and laugh-out-loud funny, with few concessions to the stifling modern cult of you-can’t-say-that.
London Rules, my thriller of the year, is the best of Mick Herron’s tales of special-needs spies to date, with his grouchy hero Jackson Lamb at the centre of an exhilarating blend of Ealing-esque blundering, farcical internal MI5 squabbles and deadly counter-terrorism efforts.
No British spy novelist has dramatised more effectively the view expressed by Alan Bennett: "The damage done out of conviction by self-confessed traitors like Burgess and Blunt does not compare with the far greater injuries done to this country by politicians and higher civil servants out of cowardice, self-advancement and a need to save their own skins."... To call Herron a one-off would be to ignore the still heavily apparent influence of Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels on his style. But as a master of wit, satire, insight and that very English trick of disguising heartfelt writing as detached irony before launching a surprise assault on the reader's emotions, he is difficult to overpraise.
Herron’s comic brilliance should not overshadow the fact that his books are frequently thrilling, often thought-provoking, and sometimes moving and even inspiring... Reading one of Herron’s worst books would be the highlight of my month and London Rules is one of his best.
Herron is a very funny writer, but also a serious plotter: London Rules smartly turns on the realisation by foreign enemies of how a piece of colonial knowhow, discovered by Britain during its imperial pomp, can be turned against the 21st-century nation... Where Herron’s novels most overlap with those of Le Carré is in the severity of their critique of the failures of management in post-imperial, pre–Brexit Britain.
I have reviewed nearly 3,000 crime and spy novels for The Times. Hiaasen and Herron have provided more laughs than any other crime writers. But now Herron is the more impressive. In London Rules he has combined the essence of perpetual humour with a background of reality. He may make us laugh on every page, but he also makes us think.
The trick about the Jackson Lamb books is that they are — there’s no other word — addictive. One turns to the beginning to read them again, to squeeze the last drops out. The dialogue is first-rate, addressing and exploiting the appalling comedy of violence; the plotting of both the novelist and the characters (alas, the malevolent character based on Boris Johnson only makes a very fleeting appearance here) ditto. I cannot recommend these books strongly enough;
The first book in Mick Herron’s series about the inept spies of Slough House took the world of crime writing by storm, earning rave reviews. Each of the subsequent instalments won national and international prizes. This is the fifth instalment and Herron’s descriptions of the secret service are sharper, funnier and more distorted than ever... To a very original spy story Herron adds many unusual ingredients, displaying his ear for how language is spoken – for example, throughout the book, ‘going to’ is written ‘gonna’ – and some razor-sharp wordplay: ‘Before committing Hare Krishna let’s see if we’ve got wiggle room when it comes to assigning blame.’ ‘Hara-Kiri.’ ‘You’re welcome.’
Herron has read his Carl Hiaasen as well as his Charles Dickens. The coruscating cynicism and cartoon comedy do not detract from the seriousness of the message: “Hate crime pollutes the soul, but only the souls of those who commit it.” London and its sister cities have learned this lesson and London...is Herron’s true subject. Its rules are many and varied... but, as it arcs from dawn to dusk, this exceptional thriller insists that the more the capital changes, the more it remains the same.