Wednesday, 25 June 2014

‘The Rhesus Chart’ – Charles Stross (Orbit)

A new ‘Laundry’ novel is a thing of joy, especially for someone like me who has worked in the public sector and knows full well that while the magic is made up, the rampant bureaucracy certainly isn’t. It’s funny then, how these books seem to constantly fly under the radar and completely take me by surprise. A really nice surprise but a surprise nevertheless. It shouldn’t be like that, these books are brilliant and more people should be talking about them. There, I’ve done it. Now you know that I’m a fan and while I’ll do my utmost to be objective some of that fannishness will inevitably creep into my review. Sorry about that, just give me a little bit of a nudge if it gets too much for you.

Anyway, on to the book. Have some blurb,


Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as 'the Laundry'. When occult powers threaten the realm, they'll be there to clean up the mess - and deal with the witnesses.

There's one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that's vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you'll be laughed out of the room.

But when a small team of investment bankers at one of Canary Wharf's most distinguished financial institutions discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O positive, someone doesn't want the Laundry to know. And Bob gets caught right in the middle.

‘The Rhesus Chart’ is being billed as a great place for newcomers to jump on board with this series. To be fair to Stross, he has always gone out of his way to make the ‘Laundry’ books accessible and he uses the same tricks here; a dash of background history (not laid on too thick) to get you started and then into the story itself. What really sets ‘The Rhesus Chart’ apart from its predecessors though is that it marks the start of a new arc in the series so yep, definitely a good place to jump in. Read the other books anyway though, you’re missing out if you don’t.

Reading ‘The Rhesus Chart’ left me in awe of Stross’ ability not only to plot his way through a devious mess of intrigue, counter intrigue and Human Resources but also to know when to rein it in a bit so he doesn’t lose the reader. The number of times I thought I’d lost my bearings, only for Stross to slow things down and give me a chance to catch up. It was very considerate of him :o) Having said that though, I got the impression that Stross likes to show off a little about how much he has thought of the theories that back up his world. There are more than a few info-dumps that break up the flow of the plot and left me impatient for things to just get going again. Or maybe I’m just feeling a little inferior because GCSE maths was a nightmare for me… Probably a bit of both.

The plot is very intense with something always happening to push things forwards. A couple of the twists are absolutely amazing in terms of where the plot goes and also how a little bit of insider knowledge can really pay dividends (in more than one respect). This isn’t a book where you find yourself thinking ‘how did I miss that?’, I’m not sure how good Stross is at hiding things in plain sight (maybe a little too good for his own good, if you know what I mean…) What I did like though was the sense that Stross pokes fun at the Civil Service in an almost affectionate way. It lends the whole scenario a very ‘British’ feel that I think a lot of people will identify with.

It’s not just about plot though, ‘The Rhesus Chart’ is also a heady mix of action and horror (when it really counts) that gets your heart all pumped up as well the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. And there’s a cat as well, what more could you ask for?

It feels like ages since I last read a ‘Laundry’ novel. Here’s hoping that Stross doesn’t leave it so long for the next book, especially with the way that it ends…

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