Picking up any of ‘The Laundry Files’ books is like meeting an old favourite friend you haven’t seen for a while. You just know there’s going to be an interesting tale which will be scary, funny and sad. ‘The Annihilation Score’ is the sixth book in the sequence and ticks all the boxes. For some reason I have read it out of sync as I have already read book seven, ‘The Nightmare Stacks’. I blame my reading the ‘Laundry Files’ novels. We are warned that when your messing about with other dimensions your brain is at risk.
Anyway, to recap ‘The Laundry Files’ are a superb series of novels documenting the never-ending fight between what was the Q-Division of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) and the countless horrors from other dimensions that see us as a nice tasty snack. It’s called the Laundry Files as the Q-Division used to have offices above an old Chinese laundry and the name stuck. There are currently seven books in the series but there’s a very strong rumour that the eight will arrive in the summer of 2017.
At the end of the fifth book, ‘The Rhesus Chart’, Bob Howard seemed to be a spent figure. Yes, he had dismantled a rouge vampire stockmarket trading development team but at significant cost to himself. I seem to remember that he also had a pretty rough time in the fourth novel, ‘The Apocalypse Codex’, too. The recent events have put a strain on Bob’s marriage to Dr. Dominique ‘Mo’ O’Brian. It didn’t help when she came home at the end of ‘The Rhesus Chart’ to find the Vampire bitch from HR in her living room. Especially when you consider that said vampire was an old girlfriend of Bob’s.
For ‘The Annihilation Score’, Stross has decided to give Bob a rest and the book is written from the perspective of Bob’s wife Mo. Bob’s not dead and he does make a few cameo appearances but this is all about Mo and how she copes with having to set up a very public department to cope with the escalating cases of people suddenly acquiring super-powers. Mo is also an agent with the Laundry and her chosen weapon is a violin made of bone and possessed by a demonic entity. It’s very good at eating daemons and just about any other life form Mo aims it at. She calls it Lecter.
The Laundry has been charting the rise in outbreaks of people getting super-powers. The rise, which was expected, gives rise as it were, to OPERATION INCORRIGIBLE, all capped so people could see it was important. The British know how to name these types of things properly. OPERATION INCORRIGIBLE might have taken a different course but while dealing with a super-powered lunatic in Trafalgar Square, Mo is inadvertently caught on camera playing the demon possessed violin by a film crew. The video clip goes viral. This is a disaster for the Laundry which is so secretive, hardly anyone in the Government knows that they exist.
The senior management of the Laundry, known as the Mahogany Row, deem that the best approach is one of distraction so launch the Transhuman Law Enforcement Assistance Force headed up by Dr. O’Brian. This very public organisation reports directly to the Home Secretary who agrees to sign off the budget. Mo has to recruit law-abiding super-powered heroes to combat the not so law abiding super-powered villains. She is provided with office staff including Mhari Murphy as her deputy. The only thing wrong with this is Mhari is better known to Mo as the Vampire bitch from HR.
The police also have a super-powered officer amongst their ranks. Step forward Officer Friendly who is now on secondment to Mo’s new department as Police Liaison. Mo’s marriage is on the rocks and Bob is absent, travelling the world cleaning up the mess from ‘The Rhesus Chart’. Officer Friendly provides an interesting distraction from the pressure of work for Mo but it has the potential to go very wrong and get very messy.
Of course, we need a super-powered evil genius to balance the scales and step forward one Dr. Freudstein who’s committing audacious heists right under the noses of the law enforcement authorities. While a super-powered villain was to be expected, there’s something not quite right about Dr. Freudstein, who manages to keep one step ahead of Mo’s Transhuman Law Enforcement Assistance Force.
‘The Annihilation Score’ is a multi-layered novel without being overly complex. Mo struggles to get her new Department set up against bureaucratic intransigence. There seems to be meddling by someone in the Laundry and the senior police officers are not very happy with her neither. Officer Friendly is an enigma and a temptation, while things seem to be getting worse with Bob. On top of everything else, her relationship with her demon possessed violin Lecter is changing and not for the better. It’s not a surprise that the long hours and pressure of work start to have a serious impact on Mo.
The thing I like about Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry Files’ is that he makes it seem somewhat plausible. Necromancy is just another branch of mathematics which when done properly gets the mind into the right state to access other dimensions and the creatures that inhabit them. This gives them abilities that they would not normally have had. With more and more people becoming more educated, there is a rise in people suddenly developing this ability. Due to the conditioning we have had over the last seventy to eighty years we see such abilities as super-powers (Superman, Spider-Man, etc). Perhaps if it had happened earlier it would have been seen as witchcraft.
Civil service bureaucracy is depicted with incredible accuracy based on my own observations. The mandatory training course in policing for any new super-powered recruits had my laughing out loud. Yes, the world might be about to end at any moment but we must do things properly otherwise the arrest will not stand up in court or evidence might be destroyed.
There is a very good prologue at the start of the book which is written by Mo after the events of OPERATION INCORRIGIBLE. It sets the scene for what is about to become but here’s the clever bit; its written in a style that reflects the emotional and psychological state of Mo after everything that she’s been through. Let’s be honest here, Mo goes through an awful lot.
What we have with ‘The Annihilation Score’ is yet another excellent novel in ‘The Laundry Files’ series. There are some references to what occurs in the fifth book ‘The Rhesus Chart’ so you might want to read that one first. If you’re new to the series, I would recommend that you start at the very beginning with ‘The Atrocity Archives’. You need to get your mind prepared for a bit of horror, humour, espionage and necromancy.
I’m looking forward to the eighth book which is due to arrive this summer. Rumour has it that it is called ‘The Delirium Brief’ with Bob Howard taking up the mantle once again.
(pub: Orbit/LittleBrown, 2015. 401 page small hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50531-2)