Okay, which one of you bastards mentioned author Mick Herron as a decent replacement for John Sandford in the “guilty reading pleasures” department?
Because I tried the first book of Herron’s Slough House series (Slow Horses), and then blew through the other seven in just over as many days, so much did I enjoy the story.
Just as background: when agents of Britishland’s MI5 screw up, they aren’t fired, but sent into a backwater office (Slough House) to do horribly mundane jobs (e.g. “find out how many potential terrorists there are in the country based on their book withdrawals of [unspecified] dangerous books from public libraries”), the results of which are sent back to Regent’s Park (MI5 Head Office), and promptly ignored.
One might think that there are similarities to the eminence grise of espionage writers, John le Carré, but one would be wrong. Compared to George Smiley, the head of Slough House (Jackson Lamb) is an anarchic bombthrower, implacably determined to defeat the country’s enemies (that would be MI5, the Foreign Office and MI6), and does so with a cunning, underhanded skill that would defeat Smiley in a single chapter.
As for the denizens of Slough House, they are a bunch of misfits: alcoholics, gamblers, incompetents, psychopaths, hackers and malcontents, sometimes several in the same person. As far as “the Park” is concerned, they could all quit or die tomorrow and the Service would be the better for not having to pay their salaries anymore. And they would all quit or die, except that their boss (Lamb) looks after them and protects them from their feral attackers (that would be MI5) with a ferocity that would please any lioness with her cubs.
That doesn’t stop him from mercilessly torturing his employees (e.g. offering his recovering alcoholic secretary a glass of Scotch every time she walks into his office), and sending them out (against regulations) to do field operations (jobs) which he knows that they will screw up, and they do, often hilariously. However, his hapless charges are still highly-trained agents, and they often end up doing the right thing by accident. And some of them die. And by the way, they all hate each other.
I’ve just finished the last in the series (Bad Actors), and I’m going to re-read them all after a decent interval (a week or so). At one point, New Wife asked me why I kept bursting into fits of laughter, and my only response was: “The dialogue.”
And by the way, the Slough House building is a character all to itself.
It’s seriously good stuff. Read it at your peril.
Next up for me: the Oxford series, by the same author.