The Delirium Brief (a Laundry Files novel book 8) by Charles Stross (book review)

July 13, 2017 | By | Reply More

It doesn’t seem that long ago since ‘The Nightmare Stacks’ was released but the ‘Laundry Files’ novels just keep appearing as if by magic and ‘The Delirium Brief’ is the latest to pop into existence. This is the eighth book in what is now a well-established series. The Laundry Files tells the story of the never-ending fight between what was the Q-Division of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) and the countless horrors from other dimensions that see us as rather edible. To put it another way, the British Secret Service dealing with the occult.

I’m glad to say that Bob Howard takes centre stage for this novel, which follows on from the previous novel ‘The Nightmare Stacks’. The carnage in Leeds has led to some very pointed questions being asked in the Houses of Parliament as politicians try to reassure the public and find someone to blame. Unfortunately, the Laundry which previously was a secret organisation is now squarely in the public eye. This it makes it an easy target for the politicians who are depicting it as a rogue government organisation.

The Laundry answers to the British Government and so is essentially a government department staffed by civil servants. Yes. I know that some of the senior management are probably the most powerful occult practitioners in the country but the important point is that they are civil servants. This leaves them virtually defenceless when an old adversary reappears and launches a corporate takeover helped by the Leeds fiasco. What a devious, under-hand, dirty trick!

While Bob Howard is the main man, his wife Mo (Dr. Dominique O’Brian) features, as does Alex Schwartz from ‘The Nightmare Stacks’ and Persephone Hazard. The Reverend Raymond Schiller, an American evangelist preacher, is back as the arch-villain. This is a surprise to everyone as everyone in the Laundry assumed he was killed off in a much earlier incident. Now he’s back and looking to convince the government to shut down the Laundry and outsource the required services to his organisation.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Laundry’s senior auditor, Dr. Armstrong, goes rogue taking Bob and the gang with him. There are signs that the attack on the Laundry was a prelude to something much bigger and much worse. Working undercover and under threat of instant arrest, a small selection of Laundry staff are recruited as members of Continuity Operations do what they can and carry on the fight. Of course, there’s a plan for this, ‘GOD GAME INDIGO’. It seems the civil service like their plan names to be in all capitals.

I can’t really go to much further into the plot without throwing spoilers around with gay abandon. What I can say is that there are covert operations, espionage, kidnappings and, of course, deaths. Quite a few deaths but not on the scale of the carnage in the previous novel. It all starts rather tamely with Bob having to do an interview at the BBC with a character obviously modelled on Jeremy Paxman. Bob gets a grilling over the fall-out from ‘The Nightmare Stacks’ all live on TV but he handles it well.

There’s quite a lot going on in this the latest addition to the ‘Laundry Files’ series. People are forced to make extremely difficult decisions which have enormous implications for the world they inhabit. I think it reflects Charles Stross’ development as a writer. We have seen Bob Howard develop from a young IT geek into, horrors!, middle management. In this instalment, even more management responsibility is delegated to Bob. That’s what happens when the organisation is short staffed, they must make do with whoever’s available.

While there are some very funny moments, this is by far the darkest novel in the series so far. In some places it’s almost brutal for the characters involved. As I read a series, I often get attached to key characters which in a ‘Laundry Files’ novel is a mistake. They might be killed off or they might be changed, often in non-optimal ways. It’s one of the things that makes the ‘Laundry Files’ such a good read. You never know what’s going to happen to the characters involved. It’s just that in ‘The Delirium Brief’ there’s quite a few of our regular characters.

The ending, when it arrives, is a good fitting ending but does leave at least three loose threads involving some of the characters which I expect one at least to be tidied up in the next book in the series. What I’m having trouble getting my head around is how the next book will continue on from this one. It’s down to the endings of these novels which are usually cataclysmic. As the series progresses, the cataclysmic ending get bigger and bigger. There must come a point where Britain as depicted in the novels can no longer resemble the one were used to in real life. The cataclysms are just getting too big and too public.

I hope I’m not sounding to negative, as I really enjoyed ‘The Delirium Brief’. It’s good to have the prodigals like Bob Howard return, which is also quite fittingly the name of Chapter 1. The story is well-paced with a good supporting cast. As it has quite a few references to previous novels in the series so it’s not one you could pick up to start your introduction to the ‘Laundry Files’. You probably need to start at the beginning.

After finishing the book, I feel as though there is a void which can only be filled with the next instalment. I need to know what happens next. Anyone know when it’s due for release? I honestly can’t wait.

Andy Whitaker

July 2017

(pub: Orbit. 435 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50828-3)

check out website: http://www.orbitbooks.net/

Category: Books, Horror, MEDIA

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About the Author ()

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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