Bad Actors by Mick Herron

June 23, 2023

Please note, Bad Actors is the eighth book in the Slough House series. It is likely what follows, if you haven’t read what has come before, will contain some mild spoilers. Consider yourselves duly warned. 

In MI5 a scandal is brewing and there are bad actors everywhere.

A key member of a Downing Street think-tank has disappeared without a trace. Claude Whelan, one-time First Desk of MI5’s Regent’s Park, is tasked with tracking her down. But the trail leads straight back to Regent’s Park HQ itself, with its chief, Diana Taverner, as prime suspect. Meanwhile her Russian counterpart has unexpectedly shown up in London but has slipped under MI5’s radar.

Over at Slough House, the home for demoted and embittered spies, the slow horses are doing what they do best: adding a little bit of chaos to an already unstable situation.

In a world where lying, cheating and backstabbing is the norm, bad actors are bending the rules for their own gain. If the slow horses want to change the script, they’ll need to get their own act together before the final curtain.

I don’t get as much time as I would like to enjoy on-going series when it comes to my reading over the last few years. There are however two exceptions to the rule. Alan Parks’ Harry McCoy novels are brilliant, and the Slough House novels by Mick Herron are always going to find themselves floating to the top of my TBR pile. Like many folks, I revelled in Gary Oldman’s epic turn in seasons one and two of the television adaptions of the Slough House books. So much so, I immediately purchased books three through seven and devoured them all in a couple of weeks. Book eight, Bad Actors, has been around for a while now and I’ve finally managed to find a gap in my schedule where I have had the opportunity to spend some time and really enjoy it. 

Jackson Lamb remains an incorrigible rogue throughout; he is after all the sordid glue that holds this series together. What I did spot, and I’m not sure if I imagined it or not, is that everyone’s favourite spymaster lets his odious mask slip on a handful of occasions. In previous novels, he has come across as uncaring, brash and downright rude. In this case, there are moments where, dare I say it, I’m starting to empathise with Lamb. There is a human being under all the bluster and bad language.

Lamb actually takes a bit of a back seat in this outing. Obviously, he still lights up any scene he features in* but Bad Actors is more about Claude Whelan and Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner. The slow horses are also on hand to add an extra layer of chaos into the mix.

Shirley Dander continues to be a firm favourite. She’s a force of nature. Never bothered with pointless things like questions, or indeed answers, Shirley is more interested in action. In Bad Actors, Shirley finds herself on a quiet break in the countryside that she wasn’t expecting. Calm and relaxation are not words that feature highly in Shirley’s vocabulary so she deals with the situation in her own inimitable style. You’ll not be surprised when I tell you all manner of Hell breaks loose.

As an extra treat Bad Actors also includes a short story called Standing by the Wall. This festive interlude reveals River Cartwright’s fate since the end of book seven, Slough House. It’s a must for any fan of this series. I’ll say no more than that.

I suppose it’s pretty simple really. If you’ve enjoyed the other books in this series, then you know you’re going to enjoy this. Herron is an exceptional writer. He deftly peppers his taut narratives with pithy, darkly comedic dialogue. I loved every word.

Bad Actors is published by Baskerville and is available now. Highly recommended.

My musical recommendation to accompany Bad Actors is the soundtrack to Treason by Jamie Salisbury. In Jackson Lamb’s world, we’re only ever one step away from the UK coming crashing down around about our ears. A suitably tense musical partner seems like a good fit. 

*In his own uniquely lewd, gross and highly inappropriate way.


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