Ho Ho Ho! Yes, that’s Roddy Ho and the Slow Horses gang being referred to in Standing By the Wall. The series of spy novels written by Mick Herron and featuring his quirky collection of bumbling, but loveable (some of them anyway) MI5 agents is treasured by readers around the world. They have even been adapted into the hit Apple+ streaming series, Slow Horses. As with any long-running series, the author has also written a few lesser-known novellas set using the same World canvas and characters from the main series. Until now, these have only been available separately, but for the holiday season, Mick Herron’s US publisher, SOHO Press has released a collection which gathers the four existing novellas and a newly-commissioned Christmas-themed novella under one cover – Standing By the Wall.
The new story, “Standing By the Wall,” will be the major draw here for fans who have already read the other novellas, but that story is more than worth the purchase of this collection. In it, Mick Herron uses elements from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the classic holiday film It’s A Wonderful Life to reveal new depths within reader’s favorite characters. It begins with our favorite curmudgeon boss, Jackson Lamb, asking Roddy Ho to digitally alter a photograph from his past. Despite it being Christmas Eve, Roddy Ho is thrilled to show off his technological skills. Meanwhile, River Cartwright stops by Slough House after his convalescence only to find himself invited to the “office gathering” at a local pub—perhaps his worst nightmare. As with the main novels, so much of Mick Herron’s style relies on how he allows the action to unfold, rather than solely what is actually happening plotwise. These shorter works allow the author to fill in some important informational gaps that might seem out of place or superfluous when incorporated within the main novels, but by the end of “Standing By the Wall,” readers will discover some critical details that seem likely to become integral in the next Slough House novel. “Standing By the Wall” reminds readers that the holidays are all about family—even totally dysfunctional ones—and proves that ghosts not yet lain to rest have a way of making their presence known at the most inopportune times.
“The List” is the earliest of the novellas collected in this new anthology. Written in 2015, the story deals with the death of Dieter Hess, an old spy who was keeping a second, secret, bank account—possibly revealing his true nature as a double-agent. Set in the time before the core novels begin, this story exposes some of the internal politics at play in Regent’s Park and eventually, Jackson Lamb finds himself tangled up in the mess.
The next novella in the collection is “The Marylebone Drop” (aka “The Drop”) is unique in its focus. When Solomon “Solly” Dortmund witnesses what can only be a secret information exchange at an out-of-the-way café, the ensuing investigation will reach the highest ranks of the spy agency.
“The Catch” is the third novella and was originally released in 2020. Like the first two novellas, this on features John Bachelor, an integral figure in the evolution of MI5 and Slough House. In this one, John is on the hunt for a client he hasn’t seen in quite some time. It’s a battle with his old demons in an effort to reaffirm his relevancy in an organization that seems hell-bent on changing with the times.
Possibly the most interesting of the novellas for stalwart fans of the Slough House books is “The Last Dead Letter.” It was previously included in a collection of Mick Herron short stories called Dolphin Junction. This novella recounts Jackson Lamb’s early days in the service and gives fans a glimpse of the evolution of a man who has become the unlikeliest of heroes. He is a man for whom loyalty is the highest of praise, even if he has the most cantankerous bedside manner possible.
Mick Herron and his novels are now iconic in crime fiction and spy thriller circles, so this new anthology—Standing By the Wall—is perfect for both fans and newcomers to his fictional creation. Give the gift of Slough House to someone you love—or even someone you just kind of like—this holiday season.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.