Good grief, nine books into the Laundry Files and Stross is still creating these weird, tense thrillers without really ever repeating himself. The novels have gradually shifted from clever pastiche to exploring their own premise. Accompanying that shift has been the move from a story about a low-level civil servant (Bob Howard) stumbling his way up the promotion ladder to a focus on other characters. Bringing in other voices was important for plot reasons but it wasn’t always wholly successful.
This time the narrator is Mhari Murphy, who has been a supporting character through several books and acquired a bad case of vampirism in The Rhesus Chart. Joining her are several supporting characters from earlier books including ‘Officer Friendly’, the superpowered police officer from The Annihilation Score.
With each novel, Stross has increased the threat level and since the chaotic invasion of Leeds in The Nightmare Stacks by transdimensional elves, society is now well aware that supernatural beings are an ever-present threat. Britain has naturally elected a Lovecraftian horror as prime-minister but at least a charming and respectable looking one. The USA meanwhile, has deeper problems — its supernatural intelligence agency has gone rogue and has aligned itself with an insectoid Cthulhu. That’s about the limit of the satirical dimension to the story (aside from some jokes about people being ‘woke’), which focuses on an extraction operation in the US (led by Mhari) that goes haywire.
Unlike previous novels though, the bad guy’s scheme is made clear from the beginning. There’s not a slow uncovering of what the sinister forces are up to. Instead, it is Mhari’s operation that is kept hidden in the manner of a heist plot, as various pieces and personnel get into position. That makes for plenty of action and intrigue but despite the innumerable chittering horrors, the book lacks the creeping horror of some of the earlier books (or in the novella Equuoid). There are some creepy moments (sleep-starved Secret Service agents attempting to avoid sinister being glad in silver body suits) but an inevitable consequence of making the hidden lurking threats more imminent is to make them less scary.
Plenty of Lovercraftian espionage thriller action as this series heads towards its own apocalypse.