The Rhesus Chart (A Laundry Files novel) by Charles Stross.

Bob’s 10% project is data mining. He’s looking to identify outbreaks of anything peculiar using the National Health Service data lakes. It just so happens that there is an unusual spike in the data which indicates that something is not quite right and possibly getting worse with the potential to get much, much worse. It’s at this point we are introduced to the Scrum which is nothing to do with rugby, the sport or the town.

The Rhesus Chart (A Laundry Files novel) by Charles Stross.
The Rhesus Chart (A Laundry Files novel) by Charles Stross.

For a few years now, many large organizations have adopted a methodology for computer programming called Agile. Part of this has its own terminology and that’s where this particular usage of the term scrum comes from. A ‘scrum’ is defined as ‘a flexible, holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal’. It so happens that one of the biggest financial institutions in London has a black ops scrum team trying to develop barely legal trading algorithms to put them ahead of rivals traders.

It’s worth remembering that in this series of novels, demonology is a branch of applied mathematics. Some of the scrum team members weren’t aware of this and one of their research algorithms turns them into vampires. There’s another bit of the Agile methodology that becomes foremost in their minds at this point and that’s stakeholder management. To be fair, Stross doesn’t overdo the Agile methodology aspect and you won’t get lost if you don’t know anything about it before you read this book.

There are, of course, some very funny bits in the novel which had me laughing. I’ve never heard of cats being referred to as self-propelled barbed wire. It is also against HR policy to refer to Residual Human Resources as zombies. They are valuable members of the night watch and all members of staff are entitled to respect. While there are some funny bits and, on the whole, this is a serious thriller as Bob and his Laundry team takes on the vampires. In addition to bureaucracy and mandatory internal meetings, they also have to contend with any secret service organisations worse nightmare, there’s a spy in the place.

The novel starts well with plenty going on but then hits a quiet patch in the middle. I suppose it’s a bit like the doldrums experienced by the old sail boats. Nothing much to do before things pick up again and they most certainly do. I’ll say this for Stross, he doesn’t pull punches. There is sex, violence and casualties as Bob and the team try to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Some of the fatalities surprised me but I really didn’t expect the final last line. I’m not going to spill the beans here, so you will need to read the book to find out what it is. The next Laundry files novel, ‘The Annihilation Score’, is going to be interesting.

I should make it clear that ‘The Rhesus Chart’ can be read and enjoyed without reading the four ‘Laundry Files’ books that precede it. However, you will get more out of it if you have read them and are familiar with the main characters not to mention the stifling British bureaucracy under which they operate. While I recommend ‘The Rhesus Chart’ to the world at large, I think the British citizens should be compelled to read it and the other ‘Laundry’ novels as part of their training as we need citizens suitably prepared and ready for a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN event. You just never know what the next new

Andy Whitaker

March 2016

(pub: Orbit/LittleBrown. 359 page small hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50253-3)

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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