Writer Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ are spies for our times

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British novelist Mick Herron, the author of the Slough House espionage series, poses for photographs outside his home in Oxford, England, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Like a spy in the night, writer Mick Herrons success has been stealthy. It took a while for the world to catch up with him. A decade after he introduced a crew of flawed secret agents caught between sinister plotters and cynical spymasters in the novel Slow Horses, Herron is a best-selling thriller writer who has been likened to John le Carr and won a coveted Golden Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association. The seventh novel in the series, Slough House, is out in Feb. 2021, and a TV series is in production with an A-list cast led by Gary Oldman. But initially, few took notice. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON – Like a spy in the night, writer Mick Herron’s success has been stealthy. It took a while for the world to catch up with him.

A decade after he introduced a crew of flawed secret agents caught between sinister plotters and cynical spymasters in the novel “Slow Horses,” Herron is a best-selling, award-winning writer who has been called the heir to master of espionage John le Carré.

A seventh novel in his spy series, “Slough House,” is out this week, and a TV adaptation is in production with an A-list cast led by Gary Oldman.

But initially, few took notice.

“Maybe it just wasn’t the right time,” the soft-spoken Herron recalled recently. “There were voices in my publishing company at the time that were saying the politics of the book were pretty ridiculous because it’s all about the far right and references to (Britain) possibly leaving the European Union.”

Herron’s original British publisher declined a second book, but Soho Press in the United States stuck by him, and U.K. publisher John Murray later championed the novels.

After a decade that saw Brexit roil Britain and populism surge around the globe, Herron’s fictional world of damaged secret agents, self-serving politicians and buck-passing bureaucrats seems to capture 21st-century anxieties much as le Carré’s morally ambiguous tales caught the spirit of the Cold War.

Herron’s spies have all been banished from MI5 headquarters to do dull work in a drab London office building — Slough (rhymes with cow) House — for career-wrecking mistakes. This band of “slow horses” is presided over by Jackson Lamb, a flatulent, chain-smoking former field agent who alternates between lethargy, insults and flashes of ruthless brilliance.