While I enjoyed Charles Stross’ first novel from the Laundry Files, The Atrocity Archive, this second outing is significantly more entertaining. This may well say more about me than about Charles Stross.
While the first book, among other things, pastiched Len Deighton, this one picks James Bond as the target for its literary satire and Ian Fleming is a writer with whom I am a lot more familiar. As such, I suspect that, while some of the jokes in the first book passed me by, I caught a lot more of them this time around.
Some agents have all the fun. Others save the world.
Bob Howard is an IT expert and occasional field agent for the Laundry, the branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service that deals with occult threats.
Dressed (grudgingly) in a tux and sent to the Caribbean, he must infiltrate a millionaire’s yacht in order to prevent him from violating a treaty that will bring down the wrath of an ancient underwater race upon humanity’s head. Partnered with a gorgeous American agent who’s actually a soul-sucking succubus from another dimension, Bob’s mission (should he choose to accept it) is to stop the bad guys, avoid getting the girl, and survive – shaken, perhaps, but not stirred.
Stross is an interesting writer in that he draws from a wide range of disparate influences which he juxtaposes in a manner that is by turns funny, disturbing and often both.
It helps, of course, that the writing and characterisation are so strong with Bob Howard believably and likeably struggling to navigate the bureaucratic insanities with which we are all too familiar. The Jennifer Morgue follows on from The Atrocity Archive and, this time around, everything clicked perfectly into place, making for a story that is both subversively funny and frequently unnerving.
The book also includes a second story, Pimpf, which takes place in the Laundry offices and is about corporate politics, over-enthusiastic interns and online demonic possession.
And everything is wrapped up with an essay on Ian Fleming, James Bond and where the real global villains can be found.