In London's MI5 headquarters a scandal is brewing that could disgrace the entire intelligence community. The Downing Street superforecaster—a specialist who advises the Prime Minister's office on how policy is likely to be received by the electorate—has disappeared without a trace. Claude Whelan, who was once head of MI5, has been tasked with tracking her down. But the trail leads him straight back to Regent's Park itself, with First Desk Diana Taverner as chief suspect. Has Taverner overplayed her hand at last?
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 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.