Any veteran reader of mysteries has long since learned that something or someone randomly mentioned out of place early in a story will invariably turn out to be very, very important. Alfred Hitchcock called it a MacGuffin. So, your antennae are likely to wiggle frantically when you stumble upon a casual reference to that American billionaire who committed suicide in prison not long ago. You know the one: the sex-trafficker. Surprise! Yes, Mick Herron‘s The Catch is, indeed, “ripped from the headlines” (as they say, whoever they may be). And the ninth entry in Herron’s terrific Slough House series is very, very good. Oh, and by the way, don’t worry that I’m spoiling the story: there are still plenty of surprises in store for you.
The Catch (Slough House #9) by Mick Herron (2020) 81 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
As any reader of the earlier novels in this series is aware, Slough House is “the spook equivalent of Devil’s Island.” It’s where MI5 sends its misfits and dunderheads to eke out the remainder of their careers when for some reason or another the agency can’t manage to fire them. And John Bachelor in The Catch is stuck in a dead-end job that puts him just barely this side of Slough House. He’s a “milkman,” charged with checking in every month on a list of retired former MI5 agents scattered about England. Except that “John hadn’t laid eyes on Benny Manors in well over two years.” And that poses a problem—a very big problem—when two threatening spooks from the agency show up demanding that he find the long-missing agent. Or else. And he knows exactly what else they have in mind. (No, it’s not good.)
John is perfectly aware that he’s in deep trouble. One of the two spooks is a very large man. If he “didn’t look precisely like someone who’d killed people before, he did look like someone who’d received news of other people having been killed with perfect equanimity.”
So, John sets out to find Benny Manors, and he knows exactly what to do: he goes directly to “Lady Di,” Diana Taverner, MI5’s formidable head of operations. (“There were rumours she’d turned a man to stone once, with the power of her stare. Except, John now realised, they weren’t rumours, they were interdepartmental memos.”) After all, Lady Di has the resources needed to track down Benny, and he doesn’t. And in the process he learns that the two spooks who threatened him were acting on their own. The plot thickens.
And, yes, that American billionaire who committed suicide comes into the story, too
In fact, there’s a lot of plot in The Catch, more than you might imagine in a short novella. But Mick Herron does a wonderful job putting it all together. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll like this one.
For additional reading
For reviews of the other books in this highly enjoyable series, check out Following Mick Herron’s clever British spies at Slough House.
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