Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger Winner, Mick Herron employs a quick filmic cross-cutting method in the third of his 'Slough House Series'. Real Tigers sees the age of austerity enter MI5 and vice-versa. It appears that modern, back-stabbing, which is an activity no government can do without, has been outsourced.
That is wonderful for anyone who wants more outsourcing, but not so good, for those receiving the outsourced benefits. Let me tell you, though, if you are opposed to this development that the boss of said service delivery agency never measures his own key performance indicators, since he gets his comeuppance and his body chucked on the steps of a Pall Mall club.
'Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough', wrote John Betjeman in 1933. Slough House, somewhere in Finsbury in London, is a dumping ground for agents who have messed up their careers, either through missions gone wrong, or their personal lives collapsing – there are recovering alcoholics, gamblers [almost anonymous], electronic nerds; in general, the sort who would not be missed if they were in the house when the house burned down. Then one of them is kidnapped on the way home, another begins a one-man mission to recover his mate, which soon goes wrong, but alerts the rest of the organisation.
High above these worms are the ministers and the chiefs (I did mention Pall Mall and clubs) – all bright, all from similar backgrounds and universities, to be distinguished only by whether they passed the selection board when they graduated from 'varsity’. The minister feels his rejection still, very strongly, today. Surely, though, he would not be so petty as to threaten a service so essential to national security simply because he was found inadequate years before? Don't answer that. Surely, as well, he would not be so stupid as to Tiger Test the service (that is, use a third party to make an intrusion) using a bunch of squaddies with dishonourable discharges behind them? Don't answer that. And surely the service stands united and strong, without division or weakness? Don't answer that.
I have already indicated that there is a death in Real Tigers, but it was only as I typed that paragraph, that I had the paradoxical realisation, that it was much later in the narrative than the reader perceives. And one death was not enough. Neither are the characters really sympathetic. On the other hand, at least some of them show commitment to each other, and Mick Herron's quick cutting allows him to build up surprises. Kidnap victim and recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish's connection to a full bottle of wine is a good example which becomes a plot element. Jump-cuts, also allow Herron sometimes to show us who has an alliance with who, who is manipulating who, and which parties might be keeping their relationship secret.
If Herron could manipulate the Service the way he has constructed Real Tigers many of us might feel more secure about the future. In the meantime, quake.
Read Mick's article on the book here.