"Dead Lions" is the second book in this series about members of MI5 judged to be subpar and cast into the outer darkness of Slough House to rot or resign. I enjoyed the first book in the series, "Slow Horses" but I found "Dead Lions" to be much more accomplished and certain of itself.
The tone of the writing modulates from whimsical through to darkly comic with a default setting of quiet desperation.
The plot is like a Swiss wristwatch: beautifully crafted to a complex but elegant design and assembled in dense layers that work together to drive you forward second by second.
The story starts with the assassination of the memorably named Dickie Bow, an ex-MI5 irregular, a veteran of Berlin during the cold war, by a man he believes to have been a Russian spy. His murder goes undetected until Jackson Lamb, mercurial head of Slough House, who served with Dickie Bow in Berlin, takes a closer look. The foul play he discovers turns out to be only one of several layers of the plot, that are nested inside one another like Matryoshka dolls. The discovery of each doll changed what I thought was going on so fast that I gave up trying to find the lady and just enjoyed the skill of the sleight of hand.
"Dead Lions" does a splendid job evoking the Cold War world-of-mirrors mindset and setting it in a thoroughly convincing frame of modern British Counter-Intelligence.
Slough House is populated with characters that are depressingly real yet capable of being believably surprising. The plot amplifies the characters but is not driven by them.
The pace is perfect, cutting between parallel plot lines in a way that cranks up the tension while demonstrating how deviously everything is connected to everything else.
I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.