Sometimes you need a novel that you can engage with but not at the cost of hollowing out your soul with another dystopian post-it note. It’s a tall order but these three novels will get you more than halfway there.
Joe Country is the sixth outing in Nick Herron’s Slough House series and it’s the best one yet. It starts with a barn on fire and an owl escaping on scorched wings: ‘For a moment, silhouetted against the black sky, it was a dying angel, scorched by its own divinity, and then it was a just a sooty husk, dropping like an anvil into nearby trees’
Seasoned readers of the series will be familiar with Slough House, a base for third-rate members of British intelligence who have screwed up in the past and are there to be forgotten.
They include Roddy Ho, the ‘alpha beast’ comically self-deluded about his sexual prowess, and his mismatched colleagues who work under the abominable yet likeable Jackson Lamb.
The understated humour in “Country Joe” is a delight, as in the mock-serious dialogue when a hired assassin admits to Coe, one of the Slough House team, that his income is irregular. Getting a mortgage must be difficult, says Coe and asks if he’s thought about buy-to-let. ‘I’m a mercenary. Not a pirate’, indignantly replies the hired killer. He has a point.
Nick Herron’s espionage thrillers sparkle with wit and style.
The Slough House agents are failures but we warm to them; the higher echelons in British intelligence are powerful but despicably amoral. This is life as we know it.
Gripping the heart of the reader, a merciless logic drives the simple algorithm behind the plot of “The Chain”.
Your child is kidnapped and the only sure way of saving their life is to pay a ransom and – here’s the ratchet – abduct someone else’s child and lock their parents into the very same chain that forced some other parent to snatch your child.
Call the police or try to negotiate and your child dies, leaving their kidnapper to find a more compliant victim. The chain cannot be broken.
The book’s short chapters follow at breakneck speed and you’re instantly addicted to wanting to know what happens next. Psychologically,the parents are on a runaway train and the reader has no choice but to empathise and turn the next page.
A novel by an Austrian writer, “The Capital”, may seem an enjoyable satire on EU bureaucracy but is actually a homage to what the UK will turn its back on if Brexit succeeds.
The plot, which includes an unsolved murder, revolves around plans in Brussels to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the European Commission. It’s a fun read at a purely comic level – Brexiters could find comfort in the parodies of careerist-driven politicos in Brussels – but its multinational characters emerge as far more important for what unites them.
“Country Joe”, by Nick Herron, is published by John Murray
“The cChain”, by Adrian McKinty, is published by Orion
“The Capital”, by Robert Menase, is published by Maclehose Press