Bad Actors begins and ends with beatings, apparently lethal or soon to be so. In between, it’s filled with plots, machinations, and enough back stabbings to impress Julius Caesar. Most of those are perpetrated by members of Her Majesty’s Government — especially its Secret Service — but Russia shows up for the fun, too. In the end, the bad actors get their comeuppance, mostly, or soon will, probably in the next novel.
Mick Herron has been creating the Slough House universe since the 2010 publication of Slow Horses. Bad Actors is the eighth novel in that series. (There are also three related novellas.) All of them center around the inmates of Slough House, MI5’s dumping ground for agents it doesn’t want but can’t fire. Instead, it sentences them to meaningless drudgery under the watchful eye of Jackson Lamb, hoping that it — more likely, he — will drive them to quit.
Lamb is a character for the ages, a belching, farting, George Smiley whose treatment of his subordinates is about as disgusting as his hygiene, which is nonexistent. The only thing that has kept him alive is that he’s always one step ahead of the bad actors, whether they’re Russian or his own boss at M15. And while he doesn’t like his subordinates (“Joes,” he calls them), the thing is that they’re his Joes, and it’s best not to mess with them.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bad Actors. I read it when it came out this past May, and I read it again last night. Herron is one of the best writers I have read. His plots and pacing keep the pages turning. And while Lamb is loathsome, he and his “Slow Horses” (a play on Slough House, where they work) keep you rooting for them to succeed. Or at least not fail.
I would not recommend starting with Bad Actors, however. More than most novel series, Herron’s involve so much backstory that it’s best to start at the beginning and work your way forward. So, start with Slow Horses.
And skip the TV series. It’s well done with A-list actors, but it lacks the humor of the novels.
Mick Herron, Bad Actors (New York: SoHo Press, 2022).
P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.