Bad Actors, the farcically turbulent eighth entry in the Slough House series from Mick Herron (Dolphin Junction), finds the socially retrograde Jackson Lamb and his second-string MI5 underlings brazening and bumbling their way through another espionage thriller. It's more proof that, 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.
This time around, Lamb is having his Slough House charges, known as the "slow horses," watch London's Russian embassy: What is Regent's Park current First Desk, Diana Taverner, doing at an event being held there? Meanwhile, a Regent's Park "string-puller" has asked former First Desk Claude Whelan, who's eyeing retirement like a kid at a candy store window, to investigate the disappearance of Dr. Sophie de Greer, a Swiss citizen hired as an adviser by 10 Downing Street. Might the intelligence service be involved in her disappearance? And what to make of the fact that the last call de Greer made from her mobile was apparently to Lamb?
Powered by exemplary prose ("String-pullers carry weight, but Diana carried scissors"), 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. When Whelan tells Lamb at one point, "Slough House isn't a department. It's a psychiatric ward," Lamb is quick to return, "It's my psychiatric ward." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer