Trio of thrillers: Good things come in threes

DEAD LIONS

By Mick Herron

Soho Press, $25.95; 347 pp.

ANOTHER SUN

By Timothy Williams

Soho Press, $25; 316 pp.

STRANGELETS

By Michelle Gagnon

Soho Press, $17.99; 272 pp.

Here are three new offerings from Soho Press, the crime and thriller imprint for Random House Publishers.

Great Britain’s MI5 is charged with counterespionage and counterterrorism. Any failure means banishment from the headquarters at Regent’s Park and the extinction of promotion prospects for the security officers involved. Mick Herron’s Dead Lions imagines these “slow horses” — from Slough House, on the seedy side of London, where they are assigned to administrative tasks — caught up in operations they imagine will revive their careers.

A Russian oligarch is coming to London, ostensibly advancing the interests of his oil company but secretly meeting with British officials. Internal rivalries at Regent’s Park lead to a request that Slough House provide one of the security details. Simultaneously, an almost forgotten former agent dies under mysterious circumstances that hint at the continued presence of a KGB sleeper cell in Great Britain more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb, that possibility is a debt to be paid.

Once a star in Cold War Berlin, Lamb has become such a slovenly mess that when he once fell asleep on a park bench while holding a cardboard coffee cup, he awoke to find it filled with small coins. Yet his instincts remain keen. The dead agent left behind a mobile phone with an unsent text, the single word “Cicada.” Lamb does not need an entomologist to derive from it the number 17.

Why has the group come alive after so long and what are their plans?

Once on the track, Lamb and the slow horses run close to the rail and come from behind in the stretch. They know that “truth walks a straight line” and prefer to peep round corners. They do not bother to make lists of everyone they distrust because they do not have all day. They build life’s ceiling low to be “safe from aspiration.” And so they win the race.

The deceits of counterintelligence are matched only by the hypocrisies of justice. On the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Anne Marie Laveaud is an examining magistrate (juge d’instruction), the equivalent in French criminal procedure of the American grand jury. Her latest case is the murder of a prominent sugar cane plantation owner, Raymond Calais.

The police have arrested Hégésippe Bray, whose feud with Calais dates back more than four decades. Timothy Williams’ Another Sun is a tale of envy and greed and sex envenomed by the inevitable racism of colonial politics.

Guadeloupe’s population is a tapestry of outsiders: descendants of the original French settlers (békés), descendants of the slaves brought from Africa to work the plantations, and descendants of the interbreeding between these two groups.

The French administrators balance the island’s rivalries through the awarding of construction projects. They keep a wary eye on the local independence faction, the Mouvement d’Action des Nationalistes Guadeloupéens (MANG), which has only a small following but is tending toward violence.

Laveaud is an outsider herself, born in the former French colony of Algeria and unhappily married to a native Guadeloupian. Most of her fellow colonial administrators have come to the island for the sunshine and the 40 percent salary supplement paid for assignment outside of France. But Laveaud is driven.

As her sympathetic clerk of court tells her: “There’s guilt. The belief it’s your responsibility to save the world — even single-handed. Because if you don’t save the world, no one else will.”

For French officials, a simple explanation to Calais’ murder is expedient and will be satisfied by indicting and convicting Bray. Finding involvement by MANG or revealing corruption among politically connected contractors or unraveling scandals among the békés will only roil local emotions and complicate administration. Laveaud and the truth have few allies.

In Strangelets, five teenagers about to die find themselves transported through time, the result of a particle accelerator experiment gone wrong at the Heavy Ion Collider on Long Island, N.Y. From northern California, Ireland, India, Austria and Israel, they are “kind of like a post-apocalypse model UN.” They find civilization in ruin. They encounter people and monsters from an alternative universe. They meet the mad scientist responsible for it all. They find a way back — though not quite home. Michelle Gagnon has pitched Strangelets for the “Young Adult Market,” but the book makes at least as much sense as many of the thrillers being published today for adults.