Thursday 12 October 2023

Recommended Reading and Viewing- THE SECRET HOURS - a new novel by Mick Herron and SLOW HORSES (Apple TV)

 “…since how we act in the light of day is largely for other people’s benefit, but what we do in the secret hours reveals who we really are.”

It takes a while, around page 256, for Mick Herron to tell us his meaning of ‘the secret hours’, the title of his new book about the spy trade and the spy business. It also takes quite a while for Herron to get us back into the orbit of Jackson Lamb, renamed under his espionage alias as Brinsley Miles and now back in Berlin in the 1990s, post the wall coming down but still a hotbed of intrigue. That doesn't come till around page 190 and the novel picks up speed and grip from that point.


From then it doesn’t take long for the aficionados to work out the Lamb/Miles connection:


Alison North, another alias that does take a long while to be revealed, brilliantly,  makes her views known in an early encounter in her Berlin posting, organised by David Cartwright (if you don’t know who these names are then you are going to have start off with Slow Horses and work your way forward):


“Which means I expect to be treated with respect. And if that bar’s too high, you can at least refrain from treating me with contempt. Do we understand each other?

“He stared for a long while, his face partially wreathed in the smoke his cigarette was sighing. And then, quietly but unmistakably, he farted.”


The Secret Hours  is probably the longest book (391pp) that Mick Herron has written in his Balzacian chronicling of Jackson Lamb and London’s spies. It ranges across the European continent and engages with British politics more directly than before. It doesn't take a genius to work out that Boris Johnson is being regularly pilloried and that Sparrow is a hatchet job on the odious Dominic Cummings of Brexit fame. And you wonder whether it might have once been a series of incidents that possibly would have formed small entries in what are referred to among the “Standalone Books” in the Herron bibliography at the front. Previously there were The List, The Drop and The Catch  all modest novellas that dovetailed into the Jackson Lamb Slough House stories, introducing new characters, explaining things about others. 


In The Secret Hours (spoiler alert) we come to learn for instance not just who killed Charles Partner but why and we learn how archivist Molly lost her legs.


So far the TV adaptations have only done two of the books so that makes six to go if they get to even the current end to say nothing of the incidents in the novellas and any future stories. But those two series have nailed down the characters and we have to hope that Gary Oldman (below as Jackson Lamb) stays alive and doesn’t age any further for starters.


Still there’s one question I don’t know the answer too. Is the Description “First Desk”, or in the case of this new novel “First Chair”, Herron’s invention? Love to know the answer.

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