Mick Herron on the Character of Jackson Lamb
Nerve-shredding suspense and biting satire meet in our Thriller of the Month for September, Slough House, the seventh, terrifyingly clever instalment in Mick Herron's bestselling series of the same name. In this piece, Herron describes the first time his irascible protagonist Jackson Lamb appeared to him and what happened next.
Meeting Jackson Lamb
He was waiting for me in his office. That’s how I remember it. I’d known he’d be bitter and jaded, and would run Slough House like his personal fiefdom – “I don’t think of you as a team, I think of you as collateral damage” – but I hadn’t known he’d be so brutal, so adept at probing people’s weaknesses. Or that his personal habits would be so unhygienic. Nor had I imagined he’d be frighteningly easy to channel, given how gross he is, but then I’m a commuter and an open-plan office worker, and anyone who’s been either of these knows that bile and venom are only ever a hairsbreadth away. So maybe he hadn’t just appeared fully formed, lurking in his attic office; maybe Jackson Lamb had been lurking inside me all along.
Which isn’t to say that I was unaware of his literary antecedents. The most obvious of these, to my mind, is Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel: Fat Andy – whose gargantuan appetites allowed him to swallow whole every scene in which he appears – is crime fiction’s Falstaff, a glorious Rabelaisian monster. Hill, though, was a master of the form, and his Dalziel, however larger than life he seemed on first appearance, grew in stature with every book, becoming as human and fully rounded as any literary creation has been. Similar growth isn’t in Lamb’s future, even if I were half the writer Hill was. Instead, he’s the tentpole figure, the one keeping everything else up, and doesn’t appear to need a back story; just snippets here and there, hinting at the messy compromises, the bleak insecurities, of an undercover agent’s life.
But maybe all that means is, I don’t yet know what his back story is. A comment that his colleague Catherine Standish makes in Real Tigers – that “when they pulled the Wall down he built himself another, and he’s been living behind it ever since” – is perhaps the biggest clue I’ve been allowed to his real nature: that everything he is, or appears to be, is just another cover.
Back when I was dreaming up Slow Horses, the first book in the series, I had a vague idea that its ending would involve Lamb on the lam: there’d be a final scene with him leaning against the railing of a Europe-bound ferry, watching the last of England disappear in the dark. That didn’t happen, but something like it might, one day. And if it ever does, I can see him disappearing into another role; pulling a cover over himself so completely that he becomes unrecognisable. As to what happens to him then, well, I only hope I’m still around to find out.
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