The newest Slough House spy novel by Mick Herron, has at last arrived ... We can dispense with the plot fairly swiftly, because plot isn’t — at least for me — the book’s chief attraction ... What spurs me to keep reading each new installment is Herron’s absurdist voice, which could devolve into cheap cynicism but never does. That’s why the Slough House denizens, from Jackson Lamb to Roddy Ho to newcomer Ashley Kahn, maintain pathos in the face of parody.
Herron's plots are masterpieces of convolution and elegant wrong-footing. Beyond that, his action scenes are fast-paced and thrilling — there are a couple of high-octane doozies in this installment. But the real draw of the series is its dark, dark humor. Much of it is interpersonal, but the most biting of all concerns the state of Britain, a country beset by Brexit, COVID and incompetent, if mercenary, leadership ... If there is bad news, it is that you really should have read some of the previous Slough House novels in order to get a handle on this party of rejects, their histories and capabilities. Further, if you are a veteran of the series, you may have become a little weary of Jackson Lamb's extravagant foulness and his habit of magicking cigarettes and even himself out of nowhere. That said, this is still one of the most enjoyable series I have ever read.
The final pay off had me in tears ... Herron has dialled back a little from the heartbreak of previous books in favour of a more overtly comic formulation. His unique, wry humour has always been present in the series of course, whether it be satire or the more outrageous insults that are Lamb’s forté, but Bad Actors is more a comic novel than a spy novel with comic moments. Perhaps the decision is a reaction to how real life has been in Britain over the last couple of years. That’s not to say there aren’t more serious moments; Shirley Dander in rehab is ripe for comic exploration, but Herron also finds pathos in her situation ... another triumph in one of the strongest crime series of the last decade.
The challenge for Herron now is to sustain our interest, and indeed his, in his cast of misfits a decade after he first showed he could mix espionage with political satire ... He does this as any good soap opera will, by culling and adding characters and adopting the perspective of different ones for each story ... If the adaptation starring Gary Oldman as Lamb has brought you to the written series, Bad Actors may not be the best introduction to its undoubted joys ... Long-term fans will enjoy catching up with the gang, but much of the fun depends on knowing their history and well-established failings ... Deftly drawn as she is, however, the novel suffers somewhat from the absence of Cartwright as a would-be hero trying to prove himself. Certainly, there are fewer straight thriller elements in Bad Actors than in some earlier titles, and less legerdemain in the storyline. Herron’s great strength remains his gift for rapid-fire repartee ... There’s no doubting Herron’s intelligence ... The muted timbre of Bad Actors compared with previous instalments means it won’t prompt standing ovations, but it deserves the bouquets that will come its way, and Herron is building a series with lasting resonance. We’ll miss the show when some day he decides to bring the curtain down.
... farcically turbulent ... though there may be spy novels with sentences as impeccable as Herron's, it's unlikely there are spy novels that are also as funny ... Powered by exemplary prose, Bad Actors is a spy novel moonlighting as a comedy in which one of several scenes of derring-do finds a slow horse wielding a spork. Herron's wandering perspective allows readers to get to know each of the loose cannons under Lamb's unprofessional but not indifferent command.
Herron’s intelligent prose satirizes government operations in an incisive and funny manner. This extends to a satisfying trolling of the US’s 45th president. Other characters are repulsive to the extreme, with their stories marked by exaggerated, gross humor ... With a bombastic climax in which the book’s disparate elements come together, and from which tough dames emerge triumphant, Bad Actors is a send-up of contemporary British international espionage that turns a jaundiced, droll eye on the undercurrents and corruption of government.
Dominoes are tumbling in various directions, only Lamb really knows their triggers ... The fun (and poignant bonding) of Bad Actors lies in watching all the others, at Slough House and beyond, gradually realize that only Lamb’s irreverent demands and plans are likely to get them out of a mess that’s so absurd, so wracked with capers and collapses, then even Claude Whelan will say he can’t tear his eyes away ... Herron’s plot is packed with twists and delightfully sardonic conversations, and the book’s only major flaw is that at some point it ends and one must resume normal life. But there may be a flavor of wicked humor remaining in what one does afterward—along with great satisfaction at what Lamb and the 'Slow Horses' pull out of their grubby, out-of-fashion hats.
his madcap parody of a Le Carre novel is filled with bumblers and misfits who even in the midst of their Keystone-Cops antics, still manage to deliver sharp put-downs and hilarious one-liners at the drop of a hat. Events may beggar belief at a few riotous points, but as an infectious, highly entertaining spoof of spy novels, Bad Actors hits the mark. At-sea readers will laugh out loud as they try to figure out who is doing what to whom and why.
Herron’s Slough House series, starring a group of MI5 rejects written off to the deep minors of British espionage, has long been a critics’ favorite, but this eighth installment, buoyed by a new TV series, may be the one to launch it to the genre stratosphere ... Lamb on the rampage is a joy to behold...and Taverner’s enlarged role here is an additional delight, as she fights against becoming a high-level slow horse herself. If le Carré brought moral ambiguity to the spy novel in place of Bondian glamour, Herron one-ups the master by showing us that ambiguity has its uncouth comedic side.
Once again, Herron summons a witches’ brew of double talk, petty rivalries, and professional paranoia, this time less John le Carré than George V. Higgins, to demonstrate that any talk of the intelligence community outside Slough House is nothing but an oxymoron. More proof that the enemies of the state are no more than a pretext for infighting to the death among the agencies.
Terrific ... Every piece counts in the intricate jigsaw puzzle of a plot, but the book’s main strength is its dry, acerbic wit...the result is an outstanding mix of arch humor, superb characterizations, and trenchant political observations. The forthcoming Apple TV adaptation of the series is sure to win Herron new fans.