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Charles Stross – The Delirium BriefI find long series difficult. Not just from the point of reading them – the author changes over time, his/her approach to writing will vary, and what you used to love in the earlier books might be entirely absent in later ones, of course. But also from the point of reviewing them – I mean, The Delirium Brief is book 8 (plus some short stories etc) in Charles Stross' highly entertaining Laundry Files series. This is not a point to jump onto the series (there was one a few books back. But I'd suggest you start at the beginning). This is not where you would start reading his oevre, not at all. And I will, by default, throw out spoilers for the earlier books simply by talking about this one here.
So, here I am, preaching to the choir of those who are reading the series, and want to know about the latest instalment. Which is rather different from the early books!

The Delirium Brief picks up directly where The Nightmare Stacks left off. After the clusterfuck (technical term, of course) in Leeds with the invading alien host of Elves the Laundry has to break cover, and become publicly answerable. Our protagonist Bob Howard (yes, we're back with Bob. I missed him!), as one of the senior managers who were not directly or indirectly implicated by said mess, becomes the public face of the agency, with an appearance to be grilled on the Jeremy Paxman show as the booby price. And yes, this is as much fun as you'd expect.
But he finds that Paxman is heavily warded, and that someone is briefing against the Laundry at top level it appears.
Raymond Schiller, the mega-church leader with trans-dimensional loyalties and brain parasites is also back from his (assumed) death when the portal closed behind him. And he's in the UK, and set up to meet with the Prime Minister!


Meanwhile the Laundry receives a warning from the US  Postal Service Inspectorate Occult Texts Division, indicating that the Black Chamber/Nazgul are compromised by an enemy, and that they are being bought out (Schiller's organisation is trying the same in the UK with the Laundry, we learn) – shortly before Bob (who carries this information at this point) is the target of an attempt on his freedom and his life.

I'm not gonna give you more of the story, that would be unfair. Suffice it to say that things get worse from there, that the shit really and quite comprehensively has hit the fan; we are in hell/handcart and canoe/paddle territory, and the bigwigs at Mahagony Row are working on jumping ship, pre-empting the entire agency being dissolved for political expediency, or worse.

This is interspersed with interesting little case studies, like how to run a public agency/service/utility into the ground, so it can be outsourced for profit. Of course this is entirely without any basis in real life, at all...

One of the angles I found very interesting in the book was that Bob, whilst being a key management asset in Continuity Operations (the non-Laundry fallback organisation), is quite openly being kept in the dark about something rather major (we see a lot of machinations which he is not aware of) – I was not sure if that was for reasons of deniability, or something else. For a while it felt that he was sent out as what Harry Conolly would have termed a Wooden Man – ie to be visible, draw fire, and flush out hidden opposition.
It also becomes fairly clear quite early on where things are headed, at least as an approach by Continuity Operations to counter the attack – and no, I'm not telling!

The story is, as Charlie frequently does, written in reasonably short chapters and multiple strands, with the book jumping back & forth between them, normally leavin them hanging either with a ominous foreshadowing, or a simple cliffhanger.
We get quite some action here, more than is usually contained in Laundry Files novels; and we get a good amount of secret squirrel stuff, trade craft etc. There isn't much geeky humour in the story anymore at this point, save for some descriptions etc – the story is, in itself, rather bleak (yes, we are headed for the end of the world as we know it, that's been known for a long time).

Overall I really enjoyed the book – but I really can only recommend it for readers who have read at least part, or preferably all of the previous ones in the series; I think you would lose too much if starting here.



More Charles Stross

Title: The Delirium Brief
Author: Charles Stross
Series: Laundry Files
Series Number: 8
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Tor
Publisher URL: http://www.tor.com
Publication Date: July 2017
Review Date: 171123
ISBN: 9780765394668
Price: UKP
Pages: 345
Format: ePub
Topic: Magic
Topic: Horror

 

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