The abduction of one of their own rouses the members of MI5’s dead-end Slough House (Dead Lions 2013, etc.) to action once more.
As she’s the first to tell everyone, recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish has never been “a joe,” a field agent. She’s just the assistant to Jackson Lamb, who lords it over Slough House as if it weren’t the penultimate stop on the path from success in the Security Service to disgrace and oblivion. But that doesn’t stop her ex-lover Sean Donovan from scooping her up in a van, locking her in a room an hour outside London, and demanding for her return a copy of a most sensitive intelligence file. Naturally, River Cartwright, the colleague Catherine designates as the one she’d be most likely to trust with her life, makes a hash of his attempt to meet the ransom demand and ends up in a little room of his own being worked over by Nick Duffy of the Dogs, the service’s internal police. That’s no slur against him, though, because the savviest agent in the world (something River’s never come close to being on his best day) would never have suspected the truth about the rabbit hole Catherine’s tumbled down. Her kidnapping, it’s gradually revealed, is both more and less than it seems—less, because her abductors couldn’t be more considerate, except for the one who quickly gets killed; more, because the service itself is so torn between narcissistic careerists and warring factions battling for control that its fate, and presumably that of her majesty’s government, seems to hang in the balance.
Even readers who don’t care for the endless bureaucratic infighting will have to admire this tour de force, in which virtually every single player—good guys, bad guys, all the turncoats and in-betweeners—is somehow connected to British Intelligence.