Cover image of "Bad Actors," a Slough House novel

When books are adapted for film or television, something is invariably lost. All too often, that means the screenwriter has ignored or butchered every shred of value in the writing. We rejoice when the characters a novelist has created emerge full-bodied on the screen. And there is, indeed, much to praise in the way Apple TV+ has conveyed Mick Herron’s Slough House crew to the series now streaming online. Not just the stars, the accomplished actors Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas, shine on-screen. The supporting cast does an equally stellar job. And that’s not just me talking. The critics seem to agree. The series works. Still, there is, sadly, something missing in the TV adaptation: Herron’s humor. Every one of the novels abounds with it. And it explodes on the pages of his eighth Slow Horse novel, Bad Actors, which is laugh-out-loud funny.

A beautifully plotted story, twisting and turning all the way

The Slough House novels stand out for three reasons from the crowd of espionage fiction filling bookstore shelves. Humor, for one, of course. Herron’s prose is fresh and clever to a fault. The dialogue sings. Second, the finely drawn characterizations of the misfits and ne’er-do-wells of Slough House, every one of them a gem. And the beautifully plotted stories, which invariably twist and turn so often that it’s a wonder the whole thing doesn’t end up bound into a knot at the end. Bad Actors excels in all three ways. I found myself laughing for page after page. And on more occasions than I can recall, I was open-mouthed at the surprises Herron had laid for me.

Bad Actors (Slough House #8) by Mick Herron (2022) 360 pages ★★★★★

Actors in the TV adaptation of this Slough House novel
Four of Slough House’s “Slow Horses” in the Apple TV+ television adaptation of Mick Herron’s novels. River Cartwright, a fixture in the series, is at left. Roddy Ho is at the computer. To his right are Sid Baker and Min Harper. Image: Empire Online

Espionage fiction for readers with a head on their shoulders

How complicated can it get, you ask? Try this on for size:

  • A Swiss consultant at 10 Downing Street, a “superforecaster,” has gone missing. Her boss there, a sleazeball adviser to the Prime Minister, regards this as an opportunity to make mischief by accusing MI5 of having disappeared her. He really runs the government, so he has the ability to make the accusation stick. He’s already managed to maneuver himself into control of all the Cabinet departments. Now he wants the Security Service, too. But MI5’s First Desk, Diana (Lady Di) Taverner, stands in his way.
  • Several of the Slow Horses are muttering about something that happened the previous night at Wimbledon. There’s no hint what it was, but it’s clear it was bad. Maybe very bad. So, it would not be surprising if they’ve kept their boss, the slovenly and abusive Jackson Lamb, in the dark. Does this have anything to do with the disappearance of the Swiss consultant? There’s no clue.
  • Lady Di attends a reception at the Russian Embassy to corner her counterpart at the GRU. He mischievously tells her that he had met in Moscow with the sleazeball adviser. Who, Lady Di knows, did not report the meeting, as the law required. And maybe that Swiss consultant is an agent of Russian intelligence.

There’s more. A lot more. But you get the gist of it. There’s room for lots of misadventure in this tale, and you won’t be surprised to find it in abundance.

About the author

Photo of MIck Herron, author of this Slough House novel
Mick Herron. Image: Tim Barrow – The Guardian

Mick Herron won the top award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for one of the Slough House novels. He has published eight to date, and the series is being adapted to the small screen by Apple TV+. It stars Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb and Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Di. But Herron published four novels in a detective series starting in 2003. The first Slow Horses book appeared in 2010. He has also published four standalone novels. He was born in England in 1959 and received a degree in English from Balliol College, Oxford.

For more reading  

You’ll find links to my reviews of all the Slough House novels at Following Mick Herron’s clever British spies at Slough House.

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