Joe Country is the eighth installment in Mick Herron’s series about a motley group of disgraced agents whom MI5 cannot fire outright, so it sends them to Slough House instead and hopes the boredom of their tasks there grinds them into resigning voluntarily.
This installment begins at the end of the tale with the murders of two “slow horses,” as Slough House’s denizens are derisively named. A “Joe,” in the argot of the intelligence world, is a spy run by a handler. And Slough House’s “handler,” the incongruously named late-Cold War veteran Jackson Lamb—he’s anything but—doesn’t like others messing with his Joes. The remainder of the novel rehearses the who, what, when, where, how, and why of these murders, and narrates the slow horses’ exaction of, if not exactly revenge, at least something approaching justice.
Mick Herron’s plots are labyrinthine, but his characters, their interactions, and conversations contain sly, dry British humor that result in books that feel, like a cross between John LeCarre and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is especially true of Jackson Lamb, whose cunning is exceeded only by a noticeable lack of hygiene, etiquette, and temperance. Lamb doesn’t carry the action in this, or any of the other installments in the Slough House series, but he is their beating heart.
Joe Country, like the previous five novels in this series, is a page-turner, which is my number-one criteria for evaluating good murder/suspense novels. (The novellas are quick reads and provide crucial backstory for the novels that succeed them, but they’re not page-turners, in my book.) I suppose you could read it as a stand-alone book, but I think you would miss out on a lot by not knowing the back story of the characters and their stories. Start with Slow Horses and read your way forward through this excellent series.
Mick Herron, Joe Country (New York: Soho Press, 2019).
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