Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Real Tigers (Slough House)" by Mick Herron is not the spy book I was expecting but definitely worth reading

This was not at all the book I was expecting from the blurb on the back of the book. I had not read any of the other Slough House books and always associate spy novels with nonstop action and page-turning speed. So I was a bit taken aback when the book started out fairly slow and "wordy" (by which I mean there are a lot of full paragraphs and not just the spare action and dialogue oriented prose you might see in an American thriller). Clearly this was not going to be a page-turner and I was tired and just wanted some mindless escapism so I nearly quit reading but was convinced to keep going and am glad I did.

The Slow Horses (which I only just now realize is a play on words of the building where they "work") are MI5 agents who have been pulled from official duty for various screw-ups and given make-work assignments designed to make them quit. These folks are not James Bond or any of the great fictional British spies. They are not especially heroic or competent and they don't appear to like each other very much. A lot of the wordy part at the beginning of the book gives the reader insight into these characters and what messes they have made of their lives. It can be slow reading, especially if you are expecting a spy thriller. If you get tempted to stop reading -- just keep going. There is a point to what you are reading and things will eventually start moving.

Just about the time you think the action is really going to start, you get more background but keep with it. This is definitely a book written by someone with a degree in English, not the typical American thriller that is often a mental movie script in novel form. It is much more character driven with a fairly involved plot. Sit back and enjoy the writing.  One of the benefits of so much of the book being about the characters and not just solid action is that it is not critical to have read earlier books in the series to be able to understand and enjoy this one.

I don't want to give out any plot details because it would spoil the surprises the author has built into the story. Right around page 114, I realized what kind of spy book this was going to be -- and it was nothing like I expected. For the rest of the book there were plots and counter-plots until you wonder who the good guys and bad guys really are and who is going to come out on top in the end. And I finally got more of the action I was originally expecting, even though the Slow Horses are not your typical spies.  By the time I finished, I was really glad I had kept reading even though it wasn't the book I had expected. This is definitely a thinking person's spy book -- a literary spy thriller. If all you want is page-turning action, this might not be the book for you. But I still recommend it because it will keep you on your toes.

I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program in exchange for a review.

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