Mick Herron, author of the Slough House novels, is on his way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed and culturally important crime fiction writers of the twenty-first century. He has been awarded both the Gold and Steel Daggers by the Crime Writers’ Association and has been called “the John Le Carré of the future” (BBC). But Mick Herron does more than “just” write flawlessly suspenseful spy thrillers. He is a craftist of the highest order, irrepressibly versatile in form (novels, novellas, short fiction) and mood (witty, taut, spooky, laugh-out-loud funny), whose “efficient, darkly witty, tipped-with-imagery sentences . . . feel purpose-built to perforate [our] private daze of illiteracy” (The Atlantic).
Now, for the first time, Herron’s short fiction has been collected into one volume. In Dolphin Junction, devoted fans and future converts alike will find much to amuse, delight, and terrify them. Five standalone nerve-rackingly thrilling crime fiction stories are complemented by four mystery stories featuring the Oxford wife-and-husband detective team of shrewd Zoë Boehm and hapless Joe Silvermann. The collection also includes a peek into the past of Jackson Lamb, irascible top agent at Slough House.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
PROOF OF LOVE
Some while ago—a few years before he died—Joe Silvermann chose a slow mid-week morning to do some heavy shifting round the office; clear away the bits of orange peel and chewed pencil ends from under the filing cabinet. So he was wearing jeans and a Sticky Fingers T-shirt, and had built up a sweat, and hadn’t shaved—was everything, in fact, that the well-dressed private detective shouldn’t be when four million pounds came calling.
Or forty million, you wanted to get technical. If last year’s Rich List could be trusted.
“Is this a bad time?”
Joe looked down at his grimy clothing. “I’ve been undercover. But I’m free right now.”
He showed Russell Candy into the inner sanctum, which was more of a mess than when he’d started. Zoë was out. Joe had given up asking. When she was here, she was brain-deep in the computer, and when she wasn’t she was somewhere else.
“I should have made an appointment.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Candy. For you, I have time.”
Candy didn’t look surprised Joe knew who he was—Oxford didn’t have so many residents with £40 million plus that the local paper ignored them—and even less so that Joe had time for him. It would be an attitude he was used to. He was fifty or thereabouts, not much older than Joe, and his face was deeply lined, as if each million had scored its passage there. Anyoneelse, or anyone else with his money, might have done something about his hair, too, which had a gone-tomorrow look, and was flecked with probably dandruff, though Joe wasn’t a hair expert. His suit looked expensive, or at least fresh on, and his shoes were buffed to reflective glory.
Joe plucked a jar of instant from the shelf in the corner and waggled it invitingly. “I’m out of the real stuff,” he apologised, and then added, “Coffee,” in case Russell Candy thought he meant heroin. “Take a seat? How can I help?”
Candy took the visitor’s chair. “No coffee for me, thanks.”
“Nothing. Thank you.”
So Joe decided he didn’t want coffee either, and sat behind his desk instead. “But you need a detective,” he said.
“Oxford Investigations,” Candy said. “You’re in the book.”
“We have a growing reputation.”
“And you’re handy. I live just up the road.”
Joe nodded, as if that had been part of his plan. “I’ve been here awhile. How can I help you, Mr. Candy? You have a problem?”
“It’s not a problem as such. More like an errand.”
“A delivery. A collection and a delivery.”
“Like a courier service.”
“Pretty much. But I’ll pay your usual rates, don’t worry about that.”
Joe said, “Oh, I’m not worried, Mr. Candy. I’m sure you can afford my rates.”
“I’m just wondering why, if you need a courier service, you hire a private detective.”
“Well,” said Candy. “There’s the thing.”
Last time Joe had seen Russell Candy’s picture in the paper he was getting married, though without the caption you’d have thought he’d been giving his daughter away. There were eight years between Joe himself and Zoë, or six once you’d rounded her up and rounded him down. You could adjust for decades in Candy’s case, there’d still be a twenty-year gap. It was to do with money, of course, unless it was to do with whatever quality had allowed Candy to earn the money in the first place. But in the long run, it was to do with money. Joe wondered what it would be like, being Russell Candy rich. So rich you not only didn’t have to worry about your future, but could afford to stop regretting your past.
Anyway, a good slab of Candy’s wealth sat on Joe’s desk now, in a padded envelope. Which made Joe a lot richer than an hour ago, even if the money wasn’t his.
Odd thing, he thought, digging scissors from a drawer. If Joe had been, whatever, a geography teacher or something, it wasn’t likely a passing millionaire would have trusted him with—he sliced the envelope, spilling cash onto the desk—what looked like many thousands of pounds. But being a private detective put him in a world where such things happened. To be sure, Candy had told him not to open the envelope—it wasn’t like he was pretending it didn’t have money in it, but that had definitely been the instruction—only how Joe worked, he had a mantra: What would Marlowe do? Would Philip Marlowe have opened the envelope? Hell, yes. So that’s what Joe had done, and here it all was: bundled twenties and bundled fifties; all in used notes, obviously. Nobody wanted clean money these days. It took him half an hour to count, and the number he came up with—or at least, the number more or less halfway between the different totals he reached—was £100,000. More than he’d ever seen in one place.
Joe sticky-taped the envelope together, put it in a carrier bag, and went home to get changed.
“You give him the envelope, he gives you a package. You bring the package to me.” This is what Candy had said after giving Joe the envelope.
“All this seems straightforward.”
Candy had paused, and his hand went fishing in his jacket pocket, but came out empty. It found his other hand, and they settled for a nap in his lap. Ex-smoker, Joe guessed. Dipping for his cigarettes out of habit, then remembering he didn’t carry them anymore.
Joe said, “But there is a problem.”
“You’ll know that blackmailers rarely take just one bite.”
“I never said—”
“Mr. Candy, please. I give him an envelope, he gives me a package? It’s a blackmail scenario. I’m not being censorious. I’m just wondering, why bring a third party into it? You’re not able to do this exchange yourself?”
Rather pleased with himself, he leaned back in his chair and waited.
“I want to know who he is,” Candy said.
“I see,” said Joe, who thought he probably did.
“You’re a detective, you should be able to . . . tail him. Find out where he lives, who he is.”
“I can do that. But other things—say, threats—I don’t do,” Joe told him. It came out like an apology. Much of what Joe said did, which was a good reason for not doing threats. “Violence either,” he added, perhaps unnecessarily.
“You won’t need to. Once I know who’s behind this, I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. But there’ll be no violence, Mr. Silvermann. I’m a businessman, not a gangster.”
“This is good to know,” Joe said.
When he wasn’t undercover, or shifting furniture, Joe dressed conservatively: shirt and tie, usually; fawn chinos; a tweedy-type jacket he’d long been trying to upgrade from without success. A few years ago, when he and Zoë were still holidaying together, he’d snagged a bargain at an Italian street market: a leather jacket black and shiny as night, with a strap around the collar that buckled separately. Zoë had paid eleven times as much for something similar in a high-end shop. His had fallen apart the following spring, and she was still wearing hers. But despite all that Joe had liked Italy, once he’d worked out that zebra crossings were designated accident spots, not safe places to cross.
So he was wearing shirt and tie, fawn chinos and tweedy jacket when he got back to the office and found Zoë in residence: bent over a monitor, as usual. The information superhighway—wasn’t that what people were saying? Joe had no complaints about the new technology, but was well aware of his own place in it: by the side of the road, his thumb in the air.
“Hey, Zoë,” he said to his—technically—wife.
“I’m busy, Joe.”
“With credit checks,” he said helpfully.
“And reference checks.”
“And reference checks.”
“Which pay the bills.”
“You don’t get bored? Staring at the screen all day, not to mention what it’s doing to your eyes?”
She didn’t reply.
“Because it’s not a secret, you can damage your health sitting at the computer all day long. Your posture suffers.”
“You have a problem with my posture, Joe?”
“I’m only saying.”
“You think I slouch? I don’t stand straight enough?”
“You stand fine, Zoë. You always have. I’m just worried you don’t get enough fresh air.”
“So now I’m pale and wasted, right? You don’t like my pasty complexion?”
“Can I get you a cup of coffee, Zoë?”
“We’re out of coffee.”
“I think there’s some instant.”
“What do you want, Joe? I’m busy.”
“We’ve got a job.”
“A piece of proper detective work.”
He was looking over her shoulder as he said this—at the screen on which it was so easy to go back and delete what had just been keyed—and thought: Push straight on, or beat a retreat? Push straight on.
Zoë said, “Prop—”
But Joe was way ahead of her: “Not proper, no, stupid word. ‘Traditional’ is what I meant to say. Yes, traditional. You know, out on the mean streets, dealing with actual flesh and blood and real live criminals. The kind of thing we always wanted to do, remember?”
“I remember the kind of thing you always wanted to do, Joe. Trouble is, it had nothing in common with real life.” She pushed her chair from the desk, and Joe had to step aside smartish not to be run over. She looked up at him. “If you want this to be a success, you could do a little less wittering about mean streets, and a lot more studying what I do. Before you wind up on the wrong end of a credit check yourself.”
“Blackmail,” he said.
“It’s not blackmail, it’s common sense.”
“No, blackmail. That’s the job.”
“Doing it or stopping it?”
Joe had to think about that. “Well, paying it, technically. Then making sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She pursed her lips.
“It’ll be a lot more fun than credit checks,” he unwisely added.
“Which provide eighty percent of our income.”
“And of which I do one hundred percent.”
“It’s not a competition, Zoë.”
“If it was, I’d win.”
She pushed herself back to her keyboard and began stabbing it viciously; possibly randomly. The screen underwent various transformations. It was like looking through fifteen windows at once.
Joe waited until the clock in the monitor’s corner clicked onto the next minute, then said, “Zoë? I can’t do it by myself.”
He liked to think of this as his trump card.
Her fingers had stopped rattling, and she was using the mouse instead: clicking here, clicking there. But Joe was pretty sure she was slowing down.
It was just a matter of time.
The clock in the corner turned over.
Zoë said, “I bloody hope he’s paying well.”