Mick Herron, London Rules, Soho Press
This is book five in the Slough House series, and like books 4, 3, 2, and 1, it is remarkably original in its own ways. One does not expect that Rosy-fingered Dawn will introduce the story as she steals through the rooms of sleepy Slough House, nor that her cousin, Dusk, will bookend the story, or that in-between times both Day and Night will carry the book’s time. This shouldn’t have fazed me, because it’s partly advice from Edith Wharton, whom I revere. In Herron’s hands, it seems to lean back towards Homer, but of course it doesn’t. It’s more like pastoral, but you have to ask yourself just what that means; it’s not as if Herron wrote cosy crime, or harked back in other ways to Golden Age fiction. Except for one thing: the luxurious quality of the most writerly of the Golden Age writers, with their strong senses of landscape and townscape, hill and sea. Even John Creasey—that formulaic bop-’em on the head plotter– had a fine weakness for architecture, for London’s docks, and the countryside. Top-of-the-range P. D. James, too, could pause a plot to ask her readers to admire a particular building. My symptoms are probably common: read it once to find out if he’s killed any darlings lately, and then read it again to admire his prose.
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.
Martin Edwards, Foreign Bodies
As we come to the longer days/colder weather period, here’s a possible book for a rainy day, which is a kind of riposte to Edwards’s Continental Crime. It trawls through decades of unknown crime stories. Given the harsh light of Time, it can’t have been easy to find high-quality work (although there are some names still recognizable now). There is any amount of cringe-making social snobbery, class antagonism, even references to other, more famous, writers. The opening introduction explains the genesis of the book and thanks a number of colleagues for their contributions in finding and translating their own top choices. There are slight introductions to each story, beginning with Chekhov. The earlier the story the more likely it is to turn on a clever twist. It isn’t always kind to retrieve early work, even by the best writers. Here is Chekhov’s opening sentence in the first story of the collection:

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.

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