When this book opens (just before the Homeric detail) with ‘the killers’ in a village in Derbyshire there is already rich prose:
It was approaching noon, and the sun was as white as the locals had known it. Somewhere nearby, water tumbled over stones. The last time trouble had called here, it had come bearing swords.
Herron’s ability to gesture toward, say, the Twentieth-Century Wars in a phrase, as a very old man watches death arrive, is as up-to-date as his references to British politics and current disasters. Already, before old Rosie ranges through Slough House there is good reason to sit up straight, turn back the pages, and start again. And so we do. Evidently, Herron is not the first person to open a novel with high drama. Nor is he the first who will set his scene aside in order to lash his ship’s wheel to keep his course steady. One is inclined to put such scenes aside, perhaps muttering ‘Kipling’ or ‘Hardy’.
And then we are at chapter two. Herron’s ability to catch a character and give us reasons to remember him or her, allows him room for his multiplicity to remain with us, especially absentees such as River Cartwright’s now dying grandfather or Marcus, the gambler, who is now dead. The slow horses are gathering, and the idiot savant, Roddy Ho, the geek, is about to bring the roof down on them all.
At this point I have to stop, because nothing I now report about this wonderful book should contain spoilers, and however strange the horses are, somehow we have sympathy for them (not Roddy Ho, ok). So I’ll say that those who were alive in Book four are still alive, but not immune to dangers we have seen before, which are deadly beyond their worst ideas. Oh, yes, this book opens eight months after Book Four closed and the higher ups of MI5, the jockeying MPs, the wannabes, shown so satirically, continue their scramble up the greasy poles. Thus far I have probably given the impression that this is a condition of England novel, or something like. It is, but that implies terror and terrorists, some well inside the government. To keep everything about this book straight, I had to read it twice. You may wish to do the same.
On the morning of October 6, 1885, a well-dressed young man presented himself at the office of the 2nd division of the S. district, and announced that his employer, a retired cornet of the guards, called Mark Ivanovitch Klyauzov, had been murdered. Too many aristocrats (though slightly fewer as we reach more modern writers), too many women as either victims or wicked schemers (or both), more spiders than necessary, and all but one of the authors is a man. Almost all the acknowledged assistants in creating the collection are men. As usual with Edwards, there are facts but no analysis.