This is the fourth book in ‘The Laundry Files’ series of novels telling the story of Bob Howard, an operative in a branch of a very British and very secret service known as ‘The Laundry’ that fights otherworldly threats to this world. Bob is an ex-hacker who is now a practitioner of the profession of applied computational demonology. What I like about ‘computational demonology’ is that it is a very plausible way to bring witchcraft into the 21st century, although it doesn’t kill off the more traditional ritual practitioner. Bob Howard is not keen on the ritual practitioners, preferring the more geeky computational and electronics approach.
To describe this book in general terms I’m going to say and this will sound odd, it’s a bit like a James Bond novel but with a bit of realism thrown in. To justify this, I’ll point out that Bob Howard works for the British Secret Service and he is very human. He makes mistakes, gets afraid, does not like fighting as he’s not very good at it and, on occasion, gets very angry indeed. He is also married and has a knack of putting his foot in it. Excluding the secret service bit, that’s a lot more like me than James Bond.
The novel opens with Bob reviewing events that have led to him to writing his memoirs which form the Apocalypse Codex. The convention used in the memoirs is, if it’s Bob Howard then it’s written in the first person perspective and for anyone else it’s the third person. The memoirs start with the exploits of Ms. Persephone Hazard and Mr. Jonathan McTavish as they attempt to return a stolen magic amulet back to its rightful place. In an entirely unexpected turn of events, at least to Bob Howard, he is assigned to monitor Hazard and McTavish as they investigate the Reverend Raymond Schiller, an American evangelist preacher who is getting uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister. It’s interesting to note here that an operating directive puts the Prime Minster completely off-limits to the Laundry which is why they have resorted to using external assets, namely Hazard and McTavish.
American evangelical churches do tend to be easy targets for just about any type of novel that requires an evil organisation or one that can be subverted for dubious purposes. The Golden Promise Ministries fills the role nicely in this novel and with the return of Reverend Schiller to its Denver headquarters, the action so to speak, switches to the USA. It’s one of the funny things about this novel that it is only on page 108 that something odd happens. My old school computational calculator complete with red LED numerals, informs me that we are 27.98% (rounded to two decimal places) into the book before things start to happen. Bob would be pleased with this observation. The strange thing is, I have been distracted with the proceeding preamble and haven’t noticed that I’m a good chunk into the novel. It just seemed to have flown by which makes me wonder if there is more to these magical wards that are used so frequently in the novel to distract the unwary. If I had to summarise the plot, it would be that Reverend Schiller is attempting to wake what he believes utterly and completely to be Jesus, using rather unorthodox means. If he is successful, Schiller believes it will signal the end of days and all the faithful will be saved. The Laundry’s on-site agent Bob Howard has rather a different view of activities and sets out to stop Schiller’s little game.
The author Charles Stross is obviously familiar with the British civil service and the bureaucratic nightmare they are forced to operate in. It gets even worse once the military get involved as tag lines get used for events, files and equipment. For example there’s BASHFUL INCENDRY (Ms. Hazard), CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (an end of the world event) and SCORPIAN STARE (a lethal camera) just to name a few. The immersion into the British Secret Service terminology is probably one of the weakest elements of the book as it can disrupt the flow of the story. There’s also the problem of the American version of the Laundry called the Black Chamber, as it appears to have a number of other interchangeable names but I’m guessing here as they could be something else.
I’ll admit here that I jumped in the deep-end not having read any of the proceeding Laundry Files novels. ‘The Apocalypse Codex’ does work as a standalone novel, although the referrals to prior events indicate you will get more from this novel if you have read the others. Even with the weak areas mentioned above, this is a very enjoyable read. Now that I have been introduced into the workings of the Laundry, I am going to go and read books 1 to 3. After all, the British realm will need its citizens suitably prepared and ready for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
(pub: Orbit. 386 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-356-50098-0)