Cover image of "Real Tigers" by Mick Herron, a novel about British spooks

They’re all spooks. But Marcus is a gambling addict. Shirley’s a cokehead (“It was a weekend thing with her, strictly Thursday to Tuesday”). Catherine is a recovering alcoholic, Louisa a sex addict, Roddy a hacker with a toxic personality. And River screwed up a large-scale training mission so publicly that he caused all traffic to come to a halt at one of London’s busiest tube stations during rush hour.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

These misfits are the unwilling residents of Slough House, a crumbling old building far from the action in London where MI5 stashes the screw-ups it can’t find ways to fire. There, they all carry on meaningless secretarial tasks under the direction of the legendary Jackson Lamb. (“Nobody left Slough House at the end of a working day feeling like they’d contributed to the security of the nation.”) Jackson was once a high-level field operative who managed to get on the wrong side of the director general. Now he sits behind closed doors in a cluttered office on the top floor of Slough House, belching, farting, drinking, and growling at anyone who comes within his field of vision.

Real Tigers (Slough House #4) by Mick Herron ★★★★☆

In Real Tigers, the fourth book in Mick Herron’s entertaining series about the misadventures of this motley crew of spooks, the so-called “slow horses” of Slough House come into conflict once again with the formidable Diana Taverner. “Lady Di” is a deputy director who runs MI5’s operations division when she’s not scheming to force her boss out of the agency and take on the directorship herself. Though forbidden from getting involved in any meaningful operations, the slow horses somehow always seem to get drawn, willingly or not, into some case that exposes them to real-world danger.

This time, in Real Tigers, the case begins to unfold when Catherine is kidnapped after leaving work one evening. Then River is confronted by one of the kidnappers and shown a photo on his phone of Catherine tied up and gagged. She will not live, he’s told, unless he steals a top-secret file from Regent’s Park the MI5 headquarters. When River himself disappears on this mission, Jackson and his charges at Slough House swing into action.

They don’t have a clue

Naturally, they don’t have a clue what they’re getting into. They will find themselves in conflict again with Lady Di; with her boss, Dame Ingrid Tearney; with her boss, the Home Secretary; with MI5’s enforcers, the Dogs; and with a small army of private security thugs. As the action plays out, Herron’s tale becomes increasingly complicated—but it’s all glorious fun. Herron is a masterful wordsmith with genuine talent at nonstop banter. Even if you lose track of the thread of the story, which is easy to do, you’ll enjoy the action while it lasts.

There’s a hint of the story in the novel’s opening sentence: “Like most forms of corruption, it began with men in suits.” And Herron’s descriptions of characters are frequently priceless. Here, for example, is the Home Secretary: “blue suit, yellow tie, artfully tousled haystack of hair and a plummy grin you’d have to be a moron or a voter not to notice concealed a degree of self-interest that would alienate a shark.”

In addition to the five books that now comprise the Slough House series, Mick Herron has written four other novels since 2003. He has twice won recognized awards for his fiction and been shortlisted for many others.

I’ve reviewed all the Slough House novels to date. Links to my reviews can be found here: Following Mick Herron’s clever British spies at Slough House.

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