British writer Mick Herron is hailed by many as John Le Carre's successor and by others as the new Anthony Trollope, considering him the shrewdest satirical commentator on Britain today.
Herron is currently riding a well-deserved wave of success. The first in his Slough House spy series, Slow Horses, is currently an AppleTV series, with a talented cast including Gary Oldman and Kirsten Scott Thomas.
Bad Actors, the eighth and latest in the Slough House series, on publication went straight to no. 1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list.
Herron's spies are MI5's failures, the "Slow Horses" condemned for ever to repetitive tasks of "unfulfilment and boredom" in Slough House, "to look back in disappointment, stare round in dismay" as they live out the aftermath of their professional errors.
Herron's remarkable creation, Jackson Lamb, oversees his Slow Horses. Gross, flatulent devious and disgusting in his habits, Lamb however is capable of outwitting and outplaying the most powerful of enemies.
In Bad Actors Herron introduces a new player, in the Prime Minster's adviser, Anthony Sparrow, "a home grown Napoleon: nasty, British and short", who is plotting to take over the security services.
Sparrow uses the disappearance of one of his team in Downing Street, Dr Sophie de Greer, a Swiss superforecaster, to accuse the Park (Herron's version of Le Carre's Circus) of being involved and in particular it's head, First Desk, Diana Taverner.
Claude Whelan, one of her predecessors, is tasked with investigating the accusation. At the same time, Moscow's First Desk has arrived in London undetected. He intimates to Taverner that he has met Sparrow in Moscow. Sparrow has not declared the contact.
Eventually Taverner is driven underground and turns to the only ally she can trust, Jackson Lamb.
Herron is blunt in his views about the current British government and the state of the nation. "It's broken" he says. " Brexit is a disaster, the current government is a disaster. The Prime Minister in particular is a disaster. It would be short sighted or dishonest of me to pretend otherwise".
Herron is a clever satirist but he is also a stylish writer. His descriptions of London are memorably vivid. "When autumn descends on the city, its adjectives drop away like leaves from a tree, until all that remains are the obvious: London is big, its roads are hard, its skies are grey, its noise is fierce".
Although Bad Actors is a standalone novel, if you haven't ventured into Herron's world of spies before, it would be better to start with Slow Horses (2010) and read the series in order.
One word of warning. Among the mayhem, chaos and moments of cynical political insight, Herron has a tendency to kill off his established characters.
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