Book Review

Book Review : Real Tigers

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I have long been a fan of British author Mick Herron’s Slough House series, having read the first two books and reviewed the first one of the series, Slow Horses, a couple of months back. I came to know of the series when I read that the second one, Dead Lions, was a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel. I was searching for good crime novels in those days. And that particular Wikipedia link provided me information about some very good books — A Small Death in Lisbon, The Lock Artist, Night Work, This Dark Road to Mercy, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, among others. For crime fiction fans, that’s a good TBR list up there.

One of the slow horses, Catherine Standish, is abducted by some unnamed persons who send her photograph, through her phone, to River Cartwright, another of the Slough House inmates. River then goes off unauthorized — as is his wont — to do the abductors’ bidding and starts a chain of at-times hilarious and at-times grave incidents.

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Like the first two books in the series, this one also succeeds in presenting a satirical version of spy fiction. Surviving characters from the earlier books, each of whom have been meticulously sketched by Mr. Herron, return to the party. And as usual, each one of them has their own demons to contend with. Now had this been a pure drama, it’d have warranted a serious take. But being a spy/crime thriller and being in the hands of a writer like this, every single one of them demons get the “treatment”, providing us many moments where we suddenly break into fits of laughter. This is not to say that he belittles their problems. Far from it. A case in point is the battle of a former alcoholic with a small bottle of wine, which is a subplot in itself. That is a dramatic high point in a book that subverts all genre tropes and expectations. Mr. Herron, like all good writers, is masterful in the art of playing with readers’ expectations. Three or four different set-pieces are always working at any given time, cumulatively taking the story forward. Like all good, cerebral spy thrillers, this one also deals a lot with the politics of the game, with characters from both the government and the Service constantly trying to take each other down. In fact, compared to the first two books, Real Tigers invests more into, and consequently benefits more from, the office machinations.

The head of the Slow Horses, Jackson Lamb, is a Captain Jack Sparrow-esque character — foulmouthed, bad-mannered, condescending, but always doing the right thing in the end. Even his racist jibes are laced with a smattering of fun. Among the rest of the joes, Catherine Standish and River Cartwright are standouts, though it must be said that all the members of the cast shine in their parts, even those from Regent Park, the head office of the MI5.

If you’re a lover of well-done spy thrillers that are less Jason Bourne and more George Smiley, you’d love this book and the series. For my part, I’m eagerly awaiting the next one, whenever it arrives.

Oh, and the link for my review of Slow Horses is here.

Genre : Drama, Spy Thriller, mystery.

Rating : 4.5/5

Share your views and thoughts on this or other Slough House book in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

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