Archive for August, 2019

Review: London Rules, by Mick Herron

Monday, August 19th, 2019

OK, I’ve said this before and I have to say it again: plot is not Mick Herron’s greatest strength. In this book, the fifth in the Slough House series, a bunch of terrorists blow up some penguins, and the most significant murder is the result of an accident — by one of the heroes. And I think Herron is running out of bad guys. This time, it’s some inept North Koreans who’ve been living in England. All that having been said, the book is great fun and tells the continuing story of Jackson Lamb and his “slow horses”. You either enjoy listening to Lamb insult people in increasingly bizarre ways, or you don’t. And Roderick Ho — or “the Rodster” as he is known by no one — is one of the great comic creations in literature. I’ve already begun the sixth book of the series …

How Netanyahu lost

Monday, August 19th, 2019

On October 30, 1972 a little-known author named Arthur Tobier published a book entitled How McGovern Won the Presidency and Why the Polls Were Wrong.

The New York Times described the book as “perhaps premature”. A few days later, Richard Nixon went on to defeat McGovern, as predicted by all the polls, in a historic landslide.

Read my full blog post here:

Review: Spook Street, by Mick Herron

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Let me start by saying that having now read the first four books in the Jackson Lamb/Slough House series, I think we can pretty well give up on any expectation that the plots are going to get any more realistic. That having been said, why read the books? Because the characters are, well, characters. Jackson Lamb himself, first of all. It’s taken me about a week to finish the first four books in this series, and I’m not saying it’s addictive, but … I will miss the misfits of Slough House while we wait for Mick Herron to write more books.

Review: Roman Malinovsky: A Life Without A Cause, by Ralph Carter Elwood

Friday, August 9th, 2019

The name of Roman Malinovsky is little remembered today, but this was not the case a bit more than a century ago. Malinovsky was one of the most important figures in the Bolshevik Party in the years running up to the first world war. He was, in fact, the most senior Bolshevik in Russia itself while Lenin was in exile. Malinovsky was the head of the Russian Bureau of the party, its representative to the Second International, and — most important — the leader of its faction in the State Duma. In 1914, Malinovsky suddenly resigned his Duma post and fled the country, with no explanation. The Mensheviks declared that had been a paid agent of the tsarist police, the Okhrana. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, called those charges “slander”. Lenin personally led the inquiry which exonerated Malinovsky. But it turned out that the Mensheviks were right: Malinovsky was possibly the most senior agent of the Okhrana among the Bolsheviks (though arguably he had a rival). When he returned to Russia in 1917, assuming that Lenin would continue to protect him, he was tried by a revolutionary court and executed. Ralph Carter Elwood, who passed away last year, wrote this short book more than 40 years ago and it remains an outstanding example of how to tell a complex and fascinating story. Highly recommended.

Review: Real Tigers, by Mick Herron

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

The third volume in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series of thrillers continues to be as good as promised. Each of the books sees one or more members of his ‘slow horses’ team leave the team (sometimes because they are killed) while newcomers are introduced to replace them. And in each book, the team members — scorned by the official British intelligence services at ‘the Park’ — prove themselves to be rather good at what they do, especially fighting. This book has a rather nuanced look at the bad guys — who may turn out to be not so very bad at all, in some cases. Increasingly, at the heart of the books is an ambitious British Conservative politician named Peter Judd, who resembles the country’s current prime minister in a number of ways, including the description of his hairstyle and the fact that he rides a bicycle. It’s been reported that author Herron may well have known Boris Johnson in his university days, and if that’s the case, and the character is based on inside knowledge, that’s a terrifying prospect.

Review: Dead Lions, by Mick Herron

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

The second of Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb thrillers is as good as the first. But … you have to love the characters. Perhaps ‘love’ is the wrong way of putting it. They are, generally, not very nice people, Lamb in particular. They are constantly insulting each other, lying to each other, and working in the most dysfunctional organisation ever, which may well accurately describe the British intelligence services. But likeable they are not.

They are, however, eminently watchable, and part of the pleasure of watching them is seeing the discarded, despised screw-ups of MI5 who have been exiled to Slough House in the end save the day (yet again).

The story in this second volume is the weak part — it’s all rather implausible, as other reviewers have noted — but that’s not the point.

If I want to read a plausible story about how Russian agents operate in the West, I’d read the Mueller Report.

This is British espionage fiction in the best tradition not only of John le Carré but — dare I say it — of Ian Fleming as well.