Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's a Mean Old World: Nobody Walks by Mick Herron

Nobody Walks, as far as I'm concerned, is Mick Herron's best novel yet.  But it's different than his previous two novels in that it moves  further afield from that band of MI5 losers ensconced in their  headquarters in Slough House, or its more respectable equivalent at Regent's Park. Not that MI5 doesn't play a part in this one. After all, this is a Mick Herron novel, and, even though he has also written a handful  of detective novels, MI5 has been his specialty of late. Written in short, sharp bursts, with nail-biting editing that move from scene to scene, Nobody Walks  follows Tom Bettany who, while working in a meat processing plant in France, receives a voice mail regarding the death of Liam, his estranged son, who, high on some new and potent form of cannabis, has fallen from the balcony of his London flat.  Bettany returns to London for Liam's funeral, after which he sets out to find the person responsible for his son's death. Of course, with his background, it's only a matter of time before his presence in London awakens an assortment of bedfellows, not only MI5, but local gangsters, the Russian mafia and the police. In all, an evocative novel about present-day London.

It's also a novel evokes present-day London. With an eye for the incongruous as well as a sharp turn of phrase, totally British, but not without mid-Atlantic influences:

"So he walked the streets and checked what was on offer. It was early for clubs but pubs were available, and wine bars. Other places, he had no idea what they were. Literally. He passed a window through which white walls shone, art hung at well-lit intervals, and he'd have thought it a gallery if there hadn't been people unfolding menus and laying tables. Every twenty paces, the world changed. Now he was passing a bookie's and a boarded-up salesroom, now a string of takeaways, Bangladeshi, Japanese, Thai. A dentist's surgery next to a sex shop."

"Bad things could happen on the tube, though few entertained the possibility that disaster would happen to them. They feared, instead, small acts of rudeness and aggression, their own as well as others', because in the daily anonymous crush it was easy for a grip on the ordinary to loosen. The underground birthed a creature that might turn on itself. There was little need of outside agency."

There's a very thin line separating crime and spy fiction. With the former these days tending to turn in on itself, it's the latter that seems more than willing to be picking up the slack. Which was something the late French noirist Jean-Patrick Manchette commented upon over twenty years ago. My bet is that Herron would have appealed to Manchette in more ways than one.  

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