Charles Stross' Laundry Files series (to which The Jennifer Morgue belongs) is a polymorphous beast that's hard to pin down – it consists of 3 Novels so far, plus x number of Novellas, Novellettes, Short Stories etc., some of which have been included in some (but not all) editions and publications of the novels, and in compilations, and... well, you see.
Either way, this is the 2nd Novel in the sequence, yet again featuring our favourite geek, Bob Howard, suffering from a hefty dose of James Bond this time, which really cramps his style. er...
But let's start at the beginning – the story kicks off with a flashback, to an unsuccessful attempt to raise a sunk Russian Golf-II Submarine from the Abyssal Plains. It doesn't fail for technical reasons, but because another agency, living on the bottom of said Abyssal Plains decides to exercise their salvage rights under the Bathic treaty, and grabs the submarine back from the salvage rig.
You see, humanity is not alone on Earth. No, I'm not talking about the agencies that can be contacted through the correct (or not, depends on your point of view) use of geometry and programming. No, we share our planet with (at least) two other, much older and much more powerful species (codname DEEP BLUE for the Deep Ones living on the Abyssal Plains, and DEEP SEVEN for the polymorphous chthonians living in the upper crust of the polar regions). And if those two ever re-engage in their eons-old conflict then humanity might well end up as collateral damage.
Which brings us to the story itself. Because Ellis Billington, just one of many people on the expedition above, is now a multi-billionaire, and has bought the salvage vessel used for the abortive attempt at the Russian sub. He has set his aims higher, though – he wants to raise a DEEP SEVEN artefact/weapon/being (interchangeable, to some degree, it appears) and become the most powerful being on Earth. To protect himself from all the agencies who would like to keep him from doing so for a variety for reasons he has set in motion a Compulsion Geas, making his scheme behave like a James Bond story/movie – but with a twist which will ensure that, even in his role as the Evil Billionaire Mastermind, he will come out on top at the end, in stark contrast to the James Bond stories we know.
Bob is the chosen hero that the Laundry fields to combat this threat. And, as all of this takes place in the Caribbean, he is partnered (er, Destiny-entangled) with a Black Chamber assassin called Ramona Random. Who is not entirely human, wears a class-3 glamour, and is controlled by a murderous Incubus. He is as unhappy about this as the James Bond role is incompatible with him in every aspect. And as for his girlfriend Mo – well, I leave that to your imagination.
There's much to love here. It start with the James Bond spoof, the weird gadgets Bob is being equipped with, and his awkward, fumbling, and rather funny attempts to deal with this conflict between what the Geas is making him be/do and his own personality.
The Bob/Ramona double-act is also rather special, not the least for the sex scenes. I shan't spoil your fun here, let me just say that it's very very unusual, and very well handled indeed. I'm impressed, Mr. Stross.
What else is there? Well, loads, as usual. There is a recurring thread on the evil of Powerpoint and the use it's put to. Only old-fashioned slide-projector sessions with Angleton are worse...
There is the usual Alphabet Soup of international spy agencies, top secret occult branches, and all their politics, distrust, goose-stepping co-operative attempts and general sensibilities.
The book (well, the edition I read) has several extras – there is Pimpf, another short Laundry story (Bob gets told off for not playing enough games at work, and learns something about the Horrors living in HR), there is an Afterword on James Bond and his evil counterparts, a (fake) interview with Mr Blofeld (misunderstood and persecuted, of course), and, very handy, a Glossary for said Alphabet Soup.
The book itself is engaging, engrossing, and rather more entertaining than is good for travelling on public transport. Like in all the Laundry stories there's loads of geeky humour, mixed with occult/horror references. The novel can stand on its own if you don't mind missing some (ok, a lot) of the backstory and history of the characters. Generally I would suggest that you start with the earlier bits, i.e. Atrocity Archive, and some of the short stories; or with the compilation called On Her Majesty's Occult Service (US only as far as I'm aware).
Highly recommended, both the book and the series.
More Charles Stross
Title: The Jennifer Morgue
Series: Laundry Files
Series Number: 2?
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: 2006 (US), 2007 (UK), 2009 (this reprint with extra story)
Review Date: 110213
Pages: 367 (story, w/o extras)