Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.
The latest installment of the Laundry Files series is the best plot yet, has some brilliant moments but is tempered by whole chapters that feel phoned in. There's whole chunks of backstory and supporting cast member development that feel like they're just there to pad the wordcount. I was reading these chapters and imagined a dialogue between Mr. Stross and his editor:
"Hey Charles, I went over the latest revision with the publisher, they want to up the word count to justify the premium price."
"Well, the story is finished as it is..."
"Sure, and it's great, but maybe you could, you know, do that writing thing you do and make up some more stuff?"
"Where would I put more story? This is already the most complicated plot I've put together for any of the books in this series."
"Maybe you could throw in some long expositions about the supporting cast? And do lots of recaps, a'la 'The story so far' - the publisher thinks kids today with their short attention spans won't be able to follow along with all the doublecrossing doubleagents."
"Well, I suppose I could add a few paragraphs here and there. How much bigger is the book supposed to be?"
"Charles, we need to ask for another ten thousand words."
"ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME?!?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Say, how's that advance treating you anyways?"
And thus we see the author playing around with different expositionary styles in a "let's break the fourth wall" kind way. We see the author spend a lot of time developing characters that are going to be dead by the end of the book. We get an inordinate amount of exposition with some ancillary plot twists, to the point where I think this book marks a sea change in Bob Howard's career at the Laundry. Previous books had Bob getting thrown around by bureaucratic forces outside of his comprehension or control, forcing him to battle Lovecraftian horrors on one hand while trying to find his way through Gilliam-esque horrors (see  and ) on the other hand, and this was part of the charm. This book sees Bob take control of major operations, manipulate the bureaucracy to his needs, play office politics with the best of them and generally act like a middle-management, PDA wielding Indiana Jones.
I'm glad to see Bob's arc progressing so well, and the level of danger and plot complication get amped up to match. This is no Monty Haul campaign: the conflict in this story is something the likes of which the Laundry has never had to deal with before. Mr. Stross has clearly done his homework with regards to contemporary vampire mythology, and has worked very hard to put his own unique spin on it. I shan't spoil it for other readers but I'll say he stays true to the core concepts and ideals of vampirism while adding his specific spin on it and brilliantly lampoons the glut of popular vampire stories that have come out in the last few years. He's read everything from Stoker through Hamilton (at one point Bob is tasked with reading this same canon, and we clearly hear Charles whining about it through Bob's mouth) and he uses this knowledge to drop more than a few shoutouts to some of the better vampire stories. Let The Right One In and Near Dark get major nods, while the rest of the stories get their barbs here and there.
When the story is moving along, this is probably the best Laundry Files book yet. It's brilliantly plotted, the conflict is refreshing and interesting and the cast of characters is the best yet. But it felt like every time I was really into the pace, really absorbed by the story and the plot - oomph! - I ran headlong into pages of exposition that felt like trying to walk through knee deep mud. There's a lot of ancillary info thrown around that didn't directly affect the plot. This was necessary to provide the emotional backdrop of some of the characters to explain their motivations in subsequent chapters, and I have a very strong suspicion a lot of what we learned about these character's interior lives will be relevant in subsequent installments of the series. Which is great in the context of the whole series, but within the scope of this book it felt like clumsy writing. In the scope of this book alone, I would've appreciated some reworking of certain sections to make them more elegant and fit into the overall pace of the book better.
Charle's scathing treatment of the curses of modern life - particularly agile project management - should be studied by anyone who ever works with technology engineers. While parts of the plot drag, the insightful snarkiness of Bob's observations are hardly tempered at all. Technology plays less of a role in this book however; there's not as much here for the programming nerds to sink their teeth into. Overall, this book felt less like "Joe Programmer vs. The Eldritch Horrors, hilarity ensues" and more like "Bob the Middle Manager plays Van Helsing, hilarity ensues". At this rate of progression, however, there can't be many books left in the series.
Unless CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN comes about, and the publisher tries to pad the word count into a second series...
Two memorable quotes from this book:
"It suddenly dawns on me that I know about as much about looking after a pet cat as I know about flying a jet fighter: it’s all MEOW DAKKA-DAKKA ZOOM to me."
"We can't stop here, this is black pudding country!" (referencing another Terry Gilliam film)