In one of the many end-of-year round ups of books, I read one writeup presenting several authors recommendations for their favorite books read in the last year. I don't remember which author, but this book was highly recommended. I was intrigued by the comments and grabbed it from the library. Here is a completely new-to-me author and intrigue series.
Copyright: June 2010 (Soho Constable) 320 pgs
Series: 1st in Slough House series
Sensuality: Some violence, a couple scenes with brief graphic death, some swearing and crude remarks
Mystery Sub-genre: British Intrigue
Main Characters: River Cartwright, disgraced and demoted spy
Setting: Present day, London
Obtained Through: Library
River Cartwright has been banished to the British Intelligence home for misfits, Slough House. All the rejects at Slough House screwed up in some way and are barely still in the service. They are now called Slow Horses and get the absolute lowest jobs of all, if they get any jobs at all. The book begins with the assignment that got River sent to Slough House, which leaves the reader to wonder if River had been a fall guy for another's screw-up. Regardless, River is stuck going through trash and pulling long surveillance in the rain after being demoted to the Slow Horses unit.
Everything changes when a young man of Pakistani descent is kidnapped off the street and the kidnappers have an internet site showing a short video of him with the message they will broadcast his beheading in 48 hours. River seems to think that he may have a piece to the puzzle from his surveillance of a radical reporter. Suddenly Slough House and its ragtag group of misfits could become embroiled in a bigger scheme. They must start acting like a real team and not screw up this "op" to stop the beheading or they could all take the blame for this young man's death. Oh, and the young man is the nephew of a Pakistani military official...so no pressure.
River Cartwright was raised by his grand parents and his grand father had the greatest influence on the young River.
Jackson Lamb is the boss at Slough House, fat and sloppy but don't let that fool you, he still has "game" in spy-craft. The down-graded spooks (who don't all live) include: Min Harper, who once left a top secret file on the public transportation; Sidonie Baker, River's office mate; Catherine Standish, a recovering alcoholic; Roderick Ho, a computer wiz with absolutely no people skills; Jed Moody, over-anxious agent specializing in intimidation and muscle; and Louisa Guy. James "Spider" Webb is River's former friend who River believes gave him wrong information and sank his career. The Pakistani youth is the breakout character, as you see such an emotional transformation in him and you are routing for him every step of his journey. The characterization is excellent and stands out for an espionage book.
The setting is modern London, with its varying faces and Slough House's building that reeks of despair and isolation to Regent's Park where the reputable active spies work are all cast in rough shades that make you feel the paranoia and grime of the city.
The plot is very well done and developed beautifully. There are many, many British terms throughout that slowed up the pace for me as the meaning wasn't always obvious. That was annoying as it happened a lot throughout the book. There were some good tense moments and a cheer worthy climax. The resolution is pretty believable as events begin to unravel without the typical "villain confrontation." Wrap-up leaves plenty of room for the continuation of the series.
Slow Horses is a memorable espionage novel with a unique voice and great concept that delivers spies who aren't slick nor sauve, but rather flawed in their humanity.
Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list