Dr. Mo O’Brien is an intelligence agent at 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. But the Laundry is recovering from a devastating attack and when average citizens all over the country start to develop supernatural powers, the police are called in to help. Mo is appointed as official police liaison, but in between dealing with police bureaucracy, superpowered members of the public and disgruntled politicians, Mo discovers to her horror that she can no longer rely on her marriage, nor on the weapon that has been at her side for eight years of undercover work, the possessed violin known as ‘Lecter’. Also, a mysterious figure known as Dr Freudstein has started sending threatening messages to the police, but who is he and what is he planning?
I recently caught up with this excellent series when I got hold of The Rhesus Chart – see my review here – and this book is very much its companion piece. This extract from the Laundry Files is told in Mo’s viewpoint, rather than Bob’s, the usual protagonist who features in these adventures. Mo is Bob’s wife, who is sent out to regularly confront the grisly and terrible creatures with her bone violin. The sticker on the violin case THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS isn’t a joke… So it was treat to actually have her first person viewpoint.
I’ve read a few reviews complaining about what a bitch she is – but she’s teetering on the edge of full PTSD, while wrestling for control of her soul and psyche with the violin she uses as a weapon. If Stross had presented her as a softer-edged character, full of concerns about her husband’s woes while all this grief was piling up at her door, the book would have gone flying across the room. Of course, she’s taken up with her own concerns – I think Stross has done a first class job of writing her. The only grizzle I have is the rather constant harping on about middle-aged women turning invisible – given she’s beautiful (Bob has told us she is and I’ve no reason to doubt him) and only in her early forties, she shouldn’t be turning into wallpaper given the strength and charisma she displays in other situations. It grated because, while it can be a problem for women who have spent their vital years running around after spoilt children and a demanding spouse, Mo clearly doesn’t fall into that category so it struck a false note.
However, it’s a relatively minor niggle in a tour de force. Mo’s spiky tetchiness pings off the pages as she finds herself attending meetings and trying to defend her fledgling department’s performance. Being mired in office politics and powerpoint presentations while trying to save the world from the outbreak of superhero powers manifesting within the general population seems an all too realistic probability. I also really enjoyed the discussions about the uniforms they are supposed to be wearing. While Mo doesn’t have the sardonic, world-weary humour Bob regularly displays, there was plenty in this book that had me quietly grinning.
But her gritted desperation as she battles to hold it all together without Bob’s support is palpable. I found her timed crying jags very poignant – especially as there isn’t an ounce of self pity on display. The storyline worked well within the series, though I’m aware there is a steady heightening of the stakes and I do wonder how it plays out and whether they all survive intact. This particular crisis was brought to a satisfying end, though I have found myself pondering this book quite a bit since I finished reading it – always a strong sign I’ve read something special. This is a great addition and, for me, one of the best books in the series to date.
Oh, I love Stross! Thanks for posting this 🙂
I’ll be interested to know what you make of this one. Opinion is sharply divided – I think it’s great, but Mo’s pov has certainly upset a number of The Laundry fans…
I have’t read any of these books yet – but I will!
Good points about the characterization of Mo.
One thing to bear in mind about the “older women are invisible” material is that Stross is on the outside looking in. The women who don’t feel this way tend to be silent about it and, believe me, we hear a lot about this in conversations with women who do feel this way. So, it’s natural enough for Stross to conclude that all or almost all women on the north side of forty feel this way, and have Mo complain accordingly.
One other thing is that readers would do well to read the series in order (first book, “Atrocity Archives”), because while all the books are self-contained tales, they do follow the characters as they develop and age, and the earlier books provide useful background info, so it’s impossible to fully appreciate the later books if you haven’t read the earlier ones.
Yes… I suppose you’re right. I’m WELL on the north side of forty and don’t feel remotely that way – and neither do my friends, who are all strong-minded, confident women with lots going on in their lives – which was why I was a tad exasperated by his harping on and on about it.
And your other point is crucial – I couldn’t agree more. This REALLY is a series where reading them in order pays dividends.
Sounds like an interesting book. Of course, I should probably start with the first one ;). I’ve only read a novella by Stross: I can’t remember its title, but the name did stick with me.
And, what caught my eye immediately: very, very nice cover design. Interesting and fresh, and also quite consistent throughout the series.
If you like your fantasy with a Lovecraftian twist, desert-dry humour and a dollop of office politics, then give this a go. I personally think the series is outstanding with its progression – and yes… do start at the beginning as it really is the gift that goes on giving!
Fantasy with Lovercraftian twist sounds fine (definitely better than vampires or werewolves 😉 ), and dry humour is definitely fine. I’m putting this on my TBR list then! 🙂
Stross does do vampires in The Rhesus Chart – but it is with a particular twist that makes that vampirism a side-effect of something else… It’s very nicely done, as it happens. I think it’s currently one of my favourite series.
I don’t mind vampires in general (in “Blindsight” Watts does vampires great too… and he writes pure sci-fi), I guess I’m just fed up with the stereotypical urban fantasy vampires en masse. 😉
Oh this is nicely done. But then, Stross is generally a class act.