Real Tigers – Mick Herron

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This is the third in the Jackson Lamb series about Slough House, a last resting place for failed MI5 agents who have been kept on salary as low grade clerks in a central London office.  I reviewed and enjoyed the first two – Slow Horses and Dead Lions, and was looking forward to this coming out in paperback, which it recently did in the UK.

Real Tigers is about the in-house politics of British government special services, and involves Peter Judd, who is supposedly the Home Secretary, but is as good a fit for a certain Brexit minister as you are likely to find anywhere this side of the libel courts.  Arrogant, manipulative, lascivious and untrustworthy, with a shock of blonde hair and a public school upbringing, Judd is behind a dastardly plot to do away with Slough House and put the head of MI5 in the unenviable position of being at his mercy.  Judd is ambitious, and PM is the job he wants next.  He can achieve this more easily with a compliant secret service, one willing to do the dirty on the current PM.  All this back stabbing is so apt in the light of the Machiavellian machinations of the Tories this Brexit summer that it certainly does not strain credibility.

Judd’s aim is to destabilise the Head of MI5, and to achieve this he employs a group of freelance Tigers – agents tasked with testing the efficiency of the service by attempting to subvert it. The exiles at Slough House are chosen as the weakest link, and so a good point of entry.  One is kidnapped, a second makes a foolish call: there is soon a dead body, and the plot is unleashed.  The story involves revenge and dishonesty at high levels of government and the civil service, and reaches at the same time into some of the most disenfranchised and uninspiring spots of modern London.

Real Tigers has all the excellent qualities of the earlier Jackson Lamb stories.  It is well written and develops the major protagonists from the earlier stories without relying too much on caricatures, though there are some elements of stereotyping. There is Jackson, unkempt, fat, lazy and unsympathetic, and Ho, computer whizz and geek.  There is Catherine Standish, former alcoholic, and River Cartwright, failed hero.  Others at Slough House trail along – a heartbroken and beautiful female agent, a frustrated, irresponsible, tough black gambler and a short, fat, hard, lesbian junkie.  So there is definitely an equal opportunities element to the casting!  Between them these flawed heroes need to foil Judd’s plot, and to save Slough House from the axe.

Mick Herron is a good writer and the plot moves along quite well.  Herron always sets the scene effectively, describing settings in detail, though he tends to adapt the same techniques in each of the novels to achieve this, and in Real Tigers especially the descriptions of settings seemed to be adjuncts to the story rather than part of it.

I found the story in this novel a little less interesting, and less tense, than the first two.  There seemed to be longer periods where the plot did not move very far or very fast, and the denouement is complicated and full of rather uninteresting violence.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of the series and the spy genre it is well worth reading, and if you have not yet met Jackson lamb and his incompetent brood I recommend you do.

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