Mick Herron was introduced at his talk for Marlborough LitFest, as the “new king of the spy thriller” or, more punchily, as “John le Carré with jokes.” He explained that he chose this genre partly because he does not enjoy research and with spy thrillers “you can make anything up and people think you know something.”
As the author of the ‘Slough House’series, Herron certainly writes convincingly about the world of MI5, based in Regent’s Park and the desperate offshoot of Slough House where failed spies are despatched and given boring, pointless tasks to encourage them to resign. As Herron says, “Readers are more interested in failure than success – in literature you want something grittier.”
Yet, Herron combines an evocation of the hopeless sense of failure with exciting, intricate plots counter pointed with uproarious, laugh-out-loud humour, much of which is derived from the outrageous character of Jackson Lamb.
Herron describes him as “large, slovenly, smelly, drinking, smoking, with flatulence issues”- a character who “has no filter and is deliberately rude.” He is also hilarious, employing glorious one liners and non-PC comments that are at once shocking and funny. This is black comedy at its best. Although Herron says he felt liberated by creating such a character, it was a relief to the audience that he is personally nothing like Jackson Lamb.
Given Herron’s continuing huge success, it is surprising that his first book, ‘Slow Horses’, published in 2010 did not gain a readership and it was not until 2016 when Matt Richards became his publisher and heavily promoted his work, distributing 10,000 free copies of ‘Slow Horses’, that he finally gained the readership his work deserves.
When he became a full time writer, Herron found staring at a blank screen unproductive, until he realised how important the gestation period is for a writer and that, “Time spent lying on the sofa, looking at the ceiling, is work.” Now he aims to write 500 words a day. He is an intuitive writer and moves seamlessly between horror and humour. His work is often satirical and readers might recognise the inspiration for the “bicycle riding, unscrupulous politician,” Peter Judd.
The Apple TV adaptation of ‘Slow Horses’, with Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb, to be streamed next spring, will bring Herron’s work to a wider audience, but it is the publication of ‘Bad Actors’, the eighth Jackson Lamb spy story, that devotees truly anticipate. After all, much of what readers admire and love about Herron’s work lies in what he modestly describes as shuffling “words around on the page,” resulting in glorious similes such as, “the new paint smell that lingered like a not yet broken promise.” Certainly, there is nothing broken about the promise of Mick Herron’s writing.