Slow Horses - Spy thriller on Apple +

Backstory on the name from Herron’s intro to the newer printings of book 1:

Bad spies, I decided, could go to Slough House. That name didn’t come out of nowhere. At the time, I had a title that wasn’t yet doing anything, one I’d found on my commute. Dolphin Junction is the somewhat unlikely name of a signal box, just outside the town of Slough. I liked that such a technicolour label had been bestowed upon a metal box on a piece of scrubland[…]and I thought the name would sit nicely on my home for broken-down spooks.

But then I read Don Winslow’s The Winter of Frankie Machire, which contains a line explaining why one of his gambler characters is always broke: it’s beacuse he has a particular fondness for slow horses. And I thought yes, I’m having that. Slow horses. That’s who my spies are.

And to explain why they might be called that, I worked backwards until I found the phrase’s assonance, its near-rhyme, “Slough House.”

Oh hey, thanks for that backstory on the name. Love the obscurity of it all.

Dude, I was like this is the worst shootout I’ve ever seen in my life. Especially those two dudes who just stood up on that upper level all day. They had fire superiority and terrain advantage, and they don’t move. One guy just needs to suppress, the other guy moves over 20 feet, and he’s got an angle. But, naaaaaaaaaa

I wonder whether the whole point of the ineptitude of the Chieftain folks was a satire on PMCs. Because yeah otherwise it’s hard to figure how those clowns got their asses handed to them. That said, I rather enjoyed the running gunfights, though I agree it’s not the show’s forte.

That was the tone in the book, IMO. There’s a thread of organizational ineptitude running through the whole series; a sense that, while security orgs both public and private are dangerous, they’re also constantly fucking up, at the mercy of the blundering egotists who constitute them and lead them. Every spy we see is a fuckup. Every boss we see is a fuckup. Every government minister we see is a fuckup. The Slow Horses are fuckups, but so are the fast ones. Taverner is a fuckup. Ultimately, even Lamb is a fuckup.

It’s one thing I love about Slow Horses. Most movies/shows have some main characters that are so competent to the point of being infallible. This one shows success despite the mistakes, or failures despite the attempts at doing right. It’s refreshing.

I was shocked to see season 4 preview scenes with Lamb wearing a different coat. What the what!

One thing Herron does beautifully in the book series is constantly fool us with the myth of competence. Just about the time you start to think that one character or another has their shit together — at least in comparison with the others — he pulls the rug out from under you.

100% this! There’s a frustrating brilliance to it (frustrating in that I keep buying it, book after book, season after season).

I just binge-watched season 3 and I thought it another faithful adaptation, giving consideration for its medium. The Witcher folks could learn a lesson or ten from this.

I continue to be amazed at how quickly they are cranking these out. And I wonder if their plan is to do all 8 (do we know if the book series is over at 8? I’m only up to book 4).

That’s another thing positive about the series: it’s not bloated out, just compacted to 6 focused episodes a season.

And there looks to be at least until season 5 already in the works. From here:

Season 5 is set to be adapted from the fifth book in Herron’s series, “London Rules.”

I didn’t know anything about the books, but they do seem to be keeping up. I can’t see Apple cancelling it early as they don’t have a lot of shows and this one is quality stuff without a lot of the extra special effect post-production work of some shows.

I just finished Season 3 and while I enjoyed it, the ending felt abrupt.

Tangentially related, but this reminded me of the Len Deighton books:

Excellent books, if anybody is looking for some spy fiction.

The Cold War was a boon to spy fiction fans and writers. The whole situation was tailor (tinker, soldier, spy) made for cynical, slow-burn, people-focused intrigue, betrayal, and mystery. It even supported multiple approaches to essentially the same sort of stories, allowing for the more action-oriented and sometimes jingoistic American approaches (and even Bond rapidly went from afternoon tea with an edge to Hefner’s pool party) as well as the classic understated, more personal, and bleaker worlds of le Carré and his ilk.

Post-Cold War spy fiction has to deal with a radically changed landscape. The elimination of more or less fixed adversaries, and even more so the elimination of the largely unwritten but powerful set of assumptions, rules, and boundaries that framed the earlier period has given narrative creators a ton of freedom, but also has disconnected them from any real foundations. Anything goes, but that leaves the audience often unengaged or confused.

I think also the underlying cynicism of classic Cold War spy fiction was bounded in some ways by the recognition that even with all of the nastiness from people on your own side, things were still better here than there. In the post-Cold War era, cynicism has intensified while the reluctant and skeptical yet ultimately certain belief in the basic elements of one’s own cause has given way to a nihilistic belief that there is no cause, no right, no good guys. And consequently, no bad guys, either. If everyone on one team is just as venal, inept, and violent as those on the other team, what does any of it matter. Yes, there was an element of this in Cold War fiction, but usually there was some saving grace, somewhere. Today, unless you go the jingoist, xenophobic, Captain MAGA route for your protagonists, you’re left with a sort of meaningless malaise. Which of course is probably part of the narrative.

I think one thing that makes Slow Horses good is that it builds personal connections between the viewer and the main characters. No one is perfect–hell, most of them aren’t even mediocre–but somewhere in each of them is an echo of something worth believing in. Even though the post-Cold War world it lives in is about as bleak and hopeless as any small town in Germany ever was, without even the faint promise of a better dawn on the horizon that we had back then, the story manages to give us something to root for. Or someone, really.

There seem to be 8 official Slow Horses books, but I’m here to tell you that IMO The Secret Hours is a Slow Horses book. I’m kind of amazed that they pretend it isn’t.

Also, if it isn’t clear already, there are a couple of larger narratives that span across the entire series.

You see this in le Carre’s post-cold-war novels, where the ‘enemies’ are arms dealers or pharmaceutical companies, the protagonists are generally not spies, and the security services are bureaucratic battlegrounds full of graspers and climbers just waiting for the chance to knife their co-workers for a better office view.

Yeah, it’s a weird situation but I guess a very human one. Long-term conflicts or periods of clearly defined antagonisms create a sort of comfort zone. When it goes away people are left somewhat adrift.

If they do eight seasons of this I will be amazed. It’s rare to do eight seasons on streaming anymore.

Herron will keep on writing them, I’m sure. They haven’t caught up to him yet. He can probably put out a couple more and get ten books out there if Apple wants to do ten seasons.

Great books, great series. I am enjoying it all.

I finished Season One over the weekend.

Brilliant show. Should have a LOT more acclaim and hype around it than it does.

Probably need the Proclaimers to do that ;)

You are in for a treat. A few more seasons to watch and they all are great!