A title such as this one emphasizes its wares; this is a stand-alone novel, written with a bit more schmaltz than one might expect from such a witty writer. Or, perhaps, one gets witty schmaltz whether one expects it or not—as with some of the denizens of Slough House in Herron’s series haunts. To say that it revolves inescapably around what is without doubt stalking only gives a plot thread. Rather, the stalker knows about picking up losers in a park café; you’d have to be quite the loser to fall for his patter, and his clothes are a strong signal of solitary life without a lot of cleanliness. Things are, in Herron’s world, not always what they seem, and because the stalker is incompetent, he finds himself hiding the sorry young woman he has deceived to give himself a laugh—so they are both trapped. Would one otherwise believe that a boastful fantasist of little hygiene is working for MI5? There’s a spate of such men in much crime fiction, preying on female desperation and a desire to be, well, desired. And for the boastful fantasists, there is the increasing tissue of lies as well as a pressing desire to murder the unhappy woman who has trapped him. Things are, of course, never such men’s fault. He is, also of course, an only child. And the word ‘gaslighting’ never appears.
Reading Herron produces admiration and a sceptical ‘go on with you’. Man cannot do with too much reality, nor woman neither. The come-uppance depends on readers’ willingness to give the plot some rope. No, not that kind of rope, narrative-cohesion rope, though, ok, yes, driven beyond what can be borne, when the stalker decides to buy some kitchen-counter murder weapons (e.g. a wooden meat tenderizer), it looks more serious. At the same time it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Meanwhile, the sorry young woman has a sibling who is in turn trying to find her little sister, who just happens to find the park from which the stalker lifted her. London is very big, but oddly, big sister recognizes (or believes she does) her little sister’s yellow scarf, though worn by the stalker. At this point the reader does require a certain relaxation of any number of conventions, but one of Herron’s strengths is an ability to slot clues of various kinds into his narrative for use further on. Readers may now have worked out that I must have a reason why I have used ‘stalker’ and not a name. An excellent reveal towards the end is more than worth the puzzle.
Mick Herron, This is What Happened, Soho Press