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Literature / Slow Horses

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A 2010 spy novel by Mick Herron, first in the Jackson Lamb series. Now being adapted into a TV show starring Gary Oldman.

Slough House is a dumping ground for UK security service MI5; a place where they send the agents who can’t be fired but can’t be trusted with important work. They get tedious, almost pointless desk jobs that might persuade them to quit of their own free will. Conceivably, they might even find something useful for MI5 as well.


It’s not in Slough. It’s not actually called Slough House. But the name stuck. And so the poor unfortunates banished there are known as Slow Horses.

Slough House does not run ops. Ever. Until someone elsewhere in MI5 asks for a favour. And then a simple little job starts to spiral into a bloody mess.

Slow Horses contains examples of:

  • Accidental Kidnapping: It’s not an accidental kidnap, as such, and The Voice of Albion weren’t too fussy about who they grabbed, as long as their victim was from the right demographic. Unfortunately for them, the random victim they picked was Hassan, whose uncle happens to be General Mahmud Gul, second-in-command at Pakistan’s security service, the ISI.
  • Agents Dating: By the end of the book Louisa Guy and Min Harper are a couple
  • Asian and Nerdy: Roderick Ho, Slough House’s technical wizard.
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  • Deadpan Snarker: Jackson Lamb.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • Jed Moody’s arrangement with Taverner, which he sees as his only chance to escape Slough House. It gets both Jed and Sid Baker killed.
    • Alan Black’s arrangement with Taverner, seen as a way out of Slough House, leads to him infiltrating and encouraging a right-wing extremist group. And then they find out who he is.
  • Death by Falling Over: Jed Moody, after a scuffle on the Slough House stairs.
  • Decapitation Presentation: after The Voice of Albion realise that Alan Black is an infiltrator, they kill him and leave his severed head as a warning.
  • False Flag Operation: The kidnapping is staged from within MI5, as a political stunt. The hostage is supposed to be rescued. And then it all goes wrong...
  • Faster Than They Look: Jackson Lamb. Bad Sam, previously head of the Dogs, is quoted as saying that Lamb’s the only person who scares him.
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  • Internal Affairs: The Dogs.
  • Mean Boss: Jackson Lamb.
  • Never Suicide: Charles Partner, who was discreetly killed by the service after their discovery that he was selling secrets.
  • Mole in Charge: Charles Partner, who ran the service back in the Cold War days. Which is why Lamb killed him. And why Lamb was sent to Slough House.
  • My Greatest Failure: The starting point for most of the cast. Unforgivable failures are a key reason for people being reassigned to Slough House.
    • Min Carter: Leaving a top secret file on a train.
    • River Cartwright: Subverted, in that he’s still not accepting responsibility for screwing up. And he’s right, as he was set-up by Spider and Taverner after he saw something he shouldn't.
    • Louisa Guy: Losing track of the man she was tailing. Which led to a large number of illegal guns ending up on the streets.
    • Roderick Ho: Averted. Rod is scarily competent at his job, and didn’t screw up. He spends the book trying to work out what he did wrong, but he was reassigned to Slough House purely because he’s an utter asshole and nobody likes him.
    • Jed Moody: Failing to stop a crooked MI5 agent getting away with an awful lot of embezzled money.
    • Sid Baker: Averted. Sid’s there to watch River, on Taverner’s orders. She’s only pretending to be a screw-up.
  • Off with His Head!:
    • The Voice of Albion threaten to do this to their captive, Hassan, as some sort of payback for extremist muslim groups like al-Qaeda executing westerners.
    • Alan Black gets decapitated by The Voice of Albion once they realise that he’s a spy.
  • Recovered Addict: Catherine Standish, who’s an alcoholic. Although that’s not why she was sent to Slough House. Or at least not directly.
  • Retired Badass:
    • River’s grandfather, the Old Bastard (“O.B.”), definitely qualifies. He spent a lifetime in the service and offers fragments of very useful advice.
    • Jackson Lamb himself may qualify. He’s not strictly retired, but he’s now old, out of shape and trapped behind a desk. Many people have forgotten who he used to be, or assume he’s all washed up. They’re painfully wrong.
    • Catherine Standish probably qualifies as well. Like Jackson, she’s written off as a has-been, a forgettable, timid-seeming woman. But when things go bad, she’s suddenly an extremely competent leader.
  • Scrap Heap Hero: Most of the Slow Horses fall into this category.
  • Staircase Tumble: Jed Moody, when Louisa and Min catch him breaking into Slough House. It’s fatal.
  • Stealthy Colossus: Jackson Lamb, who moves far more quietly than any man his size should.
  • Western Terrorists: The Voice of Albion.

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