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This is the second Jackson Lamb thriller, set in the world of MI5 and espionage. In truth, Lamb is just the head of an ensemble cast, each of whom has their own role to play in these novels.

Lamb’s team are affectionately nicknamed Slow Horses by the powers that be at MI5. Partly because it’s a play on the name of the building called Slough House where they work, and partly it’s because they are all considered subpar – for differing reasons – and are put into this team to quietly spend the remainder of their career carrying out mundane and unimportant tasks, being no trouble to anyone or anything.

However, Lamb is not as acquiescent as they would like, and cannot resist when he gets a sniff of a mystery. When he hears that a former colleague and spy, named Dickie Bow (really!) has died, he thinks there is more to it and this sets him and his team on a trail leading back to the Cold War.

I’m not sure what it is about these novels that I enjoy so much. I generally do not like spy novels because they almost always seem to have unnecessarily convoluted plots and it’s not a genre that interests me. However, Mick Herron’s writing is such a pleasure to read, and his characters are all so real and believable, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well as it’s predecessor Slow Horses, which is the first in the series.

It is a fairly complicated story with lots of strands, but they are all explained well without patronising the reader. The characters, including the overweight, chain smoking, heavy drinking, farting belching and insulting Jackson Lamb are a pleasure to spend time with, and there are a few big surprises along the way.

Although you don’t need to have read Slow Horses to understand and enjoy this book, I would recommend it as it gives background to some of the characters on the team. As for myself, I look forward to reading the next ones in the series.

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Slow Horses is the first in series of spy novels by author Mick Herron, all of which feature a team of misfits – MI5 Agents, who the service would love to get rid of but can’t for various reasons, so instead they send them to Slough House to finish out their time in the service doing menial and unimportant work. The leader of this group, who are disliked by MI5 and each other in equal measure, is Jackson Lamb, a lumbering, sometimes rude, but still sharp agent. At the start of the story, young agent Rivert Cartwright is sent to Slough House after a routine operation goes drastically wrong and River gets the blame.

However, the Slow Horses (Slough House/Slow Horses – get it?!) find themselves unexpectedly involved in a major news story when a young Muslim boy is kidnapped by a group of thuggish vigilantes, who threaten to behead him and stream it on the internet. Whatever orders they might get from above, there is no way the Slow Horses are going to sit back and let this atrocity happen, but things are way more complicated than they seem.

Okay, confession time. I don’t like spy novels. They just aren’t my thing and I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to buy this book – but nonetheless I thought I should give it a try…and I’m so glad that I did! Jackson, River and their various colleagues are all brought vividly to life, and if they aren’t always immediately likeable, they are certainly enjoyable to read about, and I couldn’t help rooting for them more or less from the off.

The plot itself is nice and twisty but stays on the right side of over-complicated – there were plenty of surprises along the way, but they never seemed too far fetched as to make the story seem ridiculous. The central theme – would the young kidnapping victim be saved? – trotted along well, and kept me gripped; I particularly liked that there were chapters told from Hassan’s point of view. There was also a lot of dry humour here too.

Overall, a great story with great characters, well told. I have bought the next available books in the series and look forward to reading them.

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