I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
London’s Slough House is where disgraced MI5 operatives are reassigned to spend the rest of their spy careers pushing paper. But when one of these “slow horses” is kidnapped by a former soldier bent on revenge, the agents must breach the defenses of Regent’s Park to steal valuable intel in exchange for their comrade’s safety. The kidnapping is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the agents uncover a larger web of intrigue that involves not only a group of private mercenaries but also the highest authorities in the Security Service. After years spent as the lowest on the totem pole, the slow horses suddenly find themselves caught in the midst of a conspiracy that threatens not only the future of Slough House, but of MI5 itself.
This series is really growing on me. Who can resist the slow horses, the failed MI-5 agents, these anti-Bonds? All of them desperately want to be back in the espionage game and not pushing paper after boring paper over in Slough House, a facility so obscure many members-in-good-standing of MI-5 don’t even know it exists. So when any excuse presents itself, they fall all over themselves to get out there and try to kick some butt.
For me, it’s the characters that really make these stories work. I can’t help but root for River Cartwright, who ended up at Slough House when a practice op that he was running was sabotaged by a frenemy and went horribly wrong. I’m cheering for him to finally be able to prove his worth and go back to the main office. All the denizens of Slough House have some horrible failure in their backgrounds—alcoholism, gambling addiction, a reliance on cocaine, you name it. And then there’s my favourite—Rodney Ho, who is just so obnoxious that no one wants him in their office. Rodney has no social skills, a vivid fantasy life, and the ability to work the internet like no one else in the office. If you’re a Criminal Minds fan, think of him as a male version of Garcia with no redeeming human graces. His misguided attempts to blackmail the other slow horses or try to attract romantic attention provide the light moments in these thrillers.
Of course, there is always Jackson Lamb, the rather revolting supervisor of this motley lot. Messy, rude, bigoted, and able to produce a reeking fart at will, he is about as far from the Bond ideal as you can get, and yet he proves himself a very capable agent on many occasions. One of the reasons that I keep reading is to figure out exactly how Lamb got to this situation.
If you’re tired of professional spies wearing slick clothes and drinking sophisticated cocktails, give the Slough House bunch a try. I think you’ll be totally entertained.