If you’ve read the author’s Slough House / Jackson Lamb series of intellectual espionage adventures then you’ll find yourself on familiar territory with this tightly-plotted short story. It’s set in the same universe, with a couple of overlapping characters from the main spy series – and The Drop shares the same themes of backbiting, in-fighting and double-bluffing in the shadowy backrooms of Brexit-Britain’s MI5.
This time the action takes place away from Slough House, and I was certainly happy not to be spending any time with Jackson Lamb, whose anti-social attributes stopped being entertaining about three books ago. Instead, we’re treated to a nostalgic reinterpretation of Cold War tradecraft, and some good old-fashioned double-agent action between competing agencies. Author Mick Herron introduces a new cast of characters – and in a weird turn of circumstance, several of them are more fully realised and far more engaging than the people in his recent full-length novels.
In fact, it’s as if writing for the confines of a much shorter format has given Herron a bit of a boost. The Drop is a splendid showcase for his outstanding prose; the man’s writing craft is pretty much unmatched in the genre these days. And here he has delivered an entirely different story featuring fresh characters, playing the great game to 21st century rules – complete with hi-tech interventions, departmental politics and international intrigue. And I adore his version of winter in London; from the shabby, slushy backstreets to the chintzy coffee parlours to the tall Georgian terraces. It’s all beautifully drawn, pin-sharp and poignant.
On the downside, the experience was all over far too soon. Just as the story felt like it was getting going… so it came to a sudden halt. I suspect that The Drop actually functions as an introduction to Herron’s next spook story, but it costs as much as most full-length novels. Price aside, the brevity of the story left me vaguely unsatisfied.
Nor is it particularly accessible to anyone who hasn’t read the Slough House series. Herron has successfully created his own, unique universe – which means that The Park, Lady Di, the Dogs, the Guardians of the Gate and the general MI5 scenario will be baffling to new readers. The Drop might be intended to encourage people to try Slow Horses but I suspect it could have the opposite effect.
So this is a tricky book to rate. If it pops up on special offer – at, say 99p – then it’s definitely worth grabbing. But will you miss much if you don’t spend £6.99 on it? I suspect not.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Drop by Mick Herron is available at Amazon
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