A Laundry Files Novel
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A clear spring night over Bavaria, cloudless and chilly. The setting moon is a waning crescent, the shadows lengthening to the south-east. A distant propeller drone splits the sky above the foothills of the Bavarian Alps as a late-flying Cessna 208 works its way slowly north-east towards Munich. The single engined utility plane is nearly six kilometers up as it cruises over the forested slopes of the west Allgäu.
It's cold and noisy in the unpressurized cabin, which is unfurnished and bare but for anchor points and tie-downs: this is nobody's idea of business class. Nevertheless, three passengers, all with oxygen masks, crouch on the floor. One of them wears overalls, a safety harness, and a headset plugged into the crew circuit. He waits by the cargo door, listening for a word from the cockpit. The other two passengers wear helmets and parachute packs in the same color scheme as their midnight camo overalls.
At a terse instruction from the cockpit, the jump-master leans forward and tugs the door open. As he does so, the taller and heavier of the midnight skydivers leans his helmet close to his companion's ear and speaks. "Are you sure this is entirely safe, Duchess?"
"Come on, Johnny! A midnight HALO drop over mountainous terrain then a rooftop landing on a madman's folly guarded by unholy nightmares?" Her laugh is a rich, musical chuckle. "What can possibly go wrong?"
"It's not that." Her companion raises a hand, adjusts the fit of the night vision goggles that half-obscure the front of his helmet, lending him the face of a giant cubist insect. "I mean, it's the payload. We're getting a bit too damn close to the deadline, if you'll pardon my French."
"Oh, really." She looks out the door, at the screaming midnight gale and the invisible forest below, as one hand moves to touch the bulge at her left hip. "Yes, we are very late. Blame the ash cloud from Helvítimunnur: we should have been able to do this last week. But if you think I am going to abort now, and risk landing at Franz Josef Strauss Airport with that thing still in my pocket --"
The jump master interrupts: "Sixty seconds."
"I thought you'd say that," Johnny says gloomily.
"Relax. Everything will be fine once it's back in its wards. Just try not to get hung up on the battlements."
Johnny gives the jump-master a thumbs-up and stands, holding the rail beside the open side-door. His companion rolls to her knees and tugs the strap connecting her harness to a kit bag the size of a large carry-on, then stands up behind him. Pausing, she turns to the jump-master and hands him an envelope. "For yourself and Darren," she says, meaning the pilot. "With my undying love, Oscar."
"It has been a rare pleasure, Ms Hazard." The jump-master raises his hand. "Five seconds! Three. Two. One. Go --"
And then he's alone with the night and magic. Persephone is falling into darkness. Kilometers below her, the tree-shrouded slopes of the alpine foothills are growing rapidly closer. The wind is a constant roaring drag at her arms and legs as she stops her spin, then scans the grainy green disk of her night vision goggles around until she can see a light green St Andrew's cross perhaps a hundred meters below her: Johnny, free-falling towards the target. He begins to crab sideways, and she checks her altimeter and the compact GPS receiver on her wrist. Off course by a couple of hundred meters: Johnny has noticed and is correcting. She makes sure to keep her distance to one side. Despite her nonchalant act, she's keyed-up and apprehensive: she'd think twice before trying to pull a caper like this with anyone else.
Nearly a minute later she's just two thousand meters above ground level. The target is in view over the ridge line as her altimeter begins to beep. She brings her right hand in and pulls the handle. There's the usual moment of screaming tension, then the whoosh and lung-emptying jolt as the chute opens -- cleanly, no messing, excellent. The falling stone has hatched into a drifting feather, gently circling towards the ground. She reaches up and grips the rigging handles, spots Johnny's chute fifty meters above her and off to the left. That's either too damn close, or not close enough -- depending on how the landing goes. She spots a hand wave. He's aware of her position. Good.
From THE APOCOLYPSE CODE by Charles Stross. Published by arrangement with Ace, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Charles Stross, 2012.
Bob Howard’s back, and this time, Britain’s most unlikely supernatural superspy heads off to America—with a sexy secret agent in tow!
Hugo Award-winning author Charles Stross serves up another rollicking mash-up of science fiction, espionage thriller, Lovecraftian horror and comedy in The Apocalypse Codex, the latest chapter in The Laundry Files.
The Laundry is the U.K.’s first line of defense against the occult, and Bob Howard is its overworked, underpaid bureaucrat-turned-hero. But there are some cases even the Laundry can’t sort out. And when the Prime Minister gets mixed up with Pastor Ray Schiller, an American evangelist whose mysterious healing powers have made his Golden Promise Ministries a force to be reckoned with, the case is too politically sensitive for them to touch. They secretly send in the beautiful, brilliant, totally unpredictable outside agent Persephone Hazard across the pond to investigate—and then send Bob to keep Persephone from sparking an international incident.
But Pastor Ray’s true faith is much darker than anyone realizes. He’s about to unleash an ancient evil into the snows of Denver, and only Bob, Persephone and their cloak-and-dagger allies can stop him....
Hardcover Book : 336 pages
Publisher: Ace Sci Fi & Fantasy/Mbr Penguin Putnam ( July 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-523031
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 inches
Product Weight: 15.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
In Stross' 4th Bob Howard 'Laundry' adventure, our favorite computational necromancing demonologist spy is sent to America after a wealthy televangelist visits the UK and shows off his healing skills...and manages to get a bit too close to the Prime Minister. And as fate would have it, there's much more going on at the Rev. Ray Schiller's Colorado-based megachurch than meets the eye.
This time Howard is aided by lone-wolf agent Persephone Hazard (MAN do I hate that name!) and her buddy Johhny (who wields two very nifty soul-sucking knives) as they go up against Schiller and his deceived flock of alien-parasite-possessed converts. Most of the action takes place in a snow-bound Colorado town, and unlike the previous novels there isn't much humor, and we actually see Howard maturing in his ways (somewhat, anyway). He's not as goofy as before, although he still makes decisions that are a bit less than desirable. Despite this slightly more serious tone, Stross brings the fun fans of the Laundry series have come to expect--although it seems to come in shorter spurts than before, especially the finale that seemed to end WAY too quickly.
My main gripe, however, is with Ray Schiller: here's an antagonist bent on unleashing an ancient alien God upon the earth, yet I found him about as threatening as Joel Osteen (I'm assuming Stross was trying to make some point here on the plastic-nature of most megachurches). Thankfully, Stross employs the aforementioned parasites as well as Russian civil war zombies (!) to attack our heroes in another dimension, otherwise there'd be very little threat going on here.
If you haven't read a Laundry novel before, I suggest catching up first, although you shouldn't be too lost.
Reviewer: Nick C