I have enjoyed Bob Howard’s adventures and was a bit shaken to realise that since I’d read The Apocalypse Codex, two more had been released in the series. Would this fifth book once more tick all the boxes?
Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as ‘the Laundry’. When occult powers threaten the realm, they’ll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses. There’s one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that’s vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you’ll be laughed out of the room. But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf’s most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn’t want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle.
I really enjoy Bob’s snarky commentary on his job with The Laundry, a Government-backed agency created to deal with the more arcane threats facing the country. Stross has clearly worked in an office during a previous career – and he has nailed some of the dafter activities that go on in admin-heavy organisations. What sets these books apart is that Bob’s first person narration is juxtaposed with his encounters with Lovecraftian beings who are waiting to break into our dimension and turn us all into snackfood.
This latest adventure, however, features more familiar monsters – with a unique Stross spin on them, of course… I love the fact that the infection causing vampirism is a prion disease that infects the brain, similar to mad cow disease. If vampires don’t get regular amounts of human blood, the parasite in their blood that makes them long-lived, allergic to sunlight and very strong, will also attack their brain. However, the same disease also attacks their donors’ brains. Although it takes a while for anyone to take this seriously, after all, EVERYONE within The Laundry knows that vampires don’t exist.
Once more I was swept up in the Stross magic, as this fantasy adventure whipped along at a satisfying clip. I particularly like the fact that Bob isn’t ever some invulnerable magic-user, even though he can pack a punch, but instead comes across as a more than slightly burned-out operative, who manages to prevail due to out-thinking his enemies while sitting at a desk and painstakingly preparing in advance. Though the devastating climax at the end of the book may change that… It was certainly a jaw-dropper – and whatever you do, don’t start your Bob Howard experience with The Rhesus Chart, but instead, go back to the start of it all in The Atrocity Archives. This is a series that deserves to be read in order.