I found “Spook Street” to be a very innovative entry in the Spy novel genre. It blends a lot of humor into what is actually a pretty good spy story.
This 2017 book is squarely in the tradition of the British spy novel. It is set largely in England and concerns the residents of Slough House, a kind of turkey farm for British Spies with “issues”, or who have ruined their careers as the result of a screw-up, or some personal failing. These individuals arrive in Slough House, sometimes because they deserve it and sometimes due to more nefarious circumstances beyond their control. This universe allows Herron to populate his novel with an endless supply of interesting and quirky characters. “Spook Street” does just that. Herron’s characters in this novel are wildly rich and highly entertaining. The leader of Slough House is Jackson Lamb, a particularly despicable individual, but quite intelligent. Other inhabitants of Slough House include those with “anger management” problems, alcohol problems, gambling problems, post traumatic stress syndrome, etc.
The plot starts with a terrorist attack in London, and then moves to strange goings-on in a cult-like house in France. One of the residents of Slough House is drawn into these events as the result of an attempt on the life of his grandfather, a former high-level spy himself, who is dealing with the possibility of dementia.
Herron throws in a lot of humor in this book, and I found that to be very refreshing. At the same time, there is a lot of action in this book, and Herron writes his action scenes as well as anyone. They are tightly drawn and held my attention throughout. Don’t let the comedy fool you. Herron can do action with the best of them, and then make you return to laughing on the next page. He is very good at what he does.
The strongest part of “Spook Street” is its innovative universe and characters. Slough House is a lot of fun, and offers the reader an endless possibility of twists and turns. Herron’s use of humor is innovative and kept me laughing while I was gradually drawn into the world of Slough House. The book is not all funny, however, and Spook Street offers a lot of action and drama as well.
The strength’s of “Spook Street” far outnumber its weaknesses. I found the plot a little far-fetched, with a few too many coincidences concerning family relationships, however. I also have to warn the American reader that this book is very British. It is written like a John LeCarré novel with a lot more humor thrown into the mix. I have to admit I missed a lot of the humor simply because I missed a few jokes that may have depended on more of a knowledge of Britain than I had. In Slough House, the interesting characters are introduced very quickly, and the changes in point of view were a little difficult for me to follow. I understand this is the fourth in a series about Slough House and I may have been more familiar with the characters had I read his previous books in the proper order. These weaknesses are minor, however. If a reader likes a good spy story with a heavy dose of humor, and can handle the British style, this book is a lot of fun.
I obtained this book from my local library. I was not familiar with Mick Herron’s work. I recently read “A Loyal Spy” by Simon Conway. This book won the “Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award”, so I checked the award and came up with the name Mick Herron. I am glad I did, and I will seek out his other works, particularly when I am in need of a good laugh combined with a good spy story. Slough House is the home of many really good characters, and the premise offers the possibility of meeting a whole lot more.
I have also published this review in Goodreads.