The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

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The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Maurizio Valeri
Reviewed by Maurizio Valeri
Summary: The third instalment of the Laundry series, The Fuller Memorandum is a spy mystery with plenty of dark humour and a pinch of supernatural horror.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841497709

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Our world is not as it seems. We share it with aliens, zombies, demonic spirits, with ancient god-like entities that are all keen to eat our bodies and devour our souls. It's lucky, then, that we have the British secret service to protect us, more specifically a top secret branch of the secret service called The Laundry. This organisation is so secret that even the bosses at MI6 don't know of its existence. The point of the Laundry is to keep all the myriad of terrors endangering the Earth at bay by the careful use of science, technology and magic, magic being a little known branch of applied maths.

Our hero in this Lovecraftian spy thriller is Bob Howard, an IT specialist and forensic demonologist working for the Laundry. Bob is married to Mo, a demonic violin-wielding exorcist special agent also working for the same secret organisation. When Bob's supervisor, the enigmatic Angleton, asks him to carry out an odd mission and then promptly disappears along with a top secret document (the Fuller Memorandum) Bob and Mo get embroiled in a dangerous mystery involving Russian zombie assassins, otherworldly soul eaters, cannibalistic occultists and quite possibly face the end of the world.

This is not the secret service of James Bond, a better comparison would be the world of Len Deighton's Harry Palmer. Here a licence to kill has to be countersigned in triplicate and have the right code number - bureaucracy rules. Bob is no superhero, in fact he is more of a geek than an intelligence agent. The techno nerdiness is emphasised and rather overdone in the opening chapters where there is too much jargon and talk of mobile phone apps and PC subsystems, but this is only a slight annoyance.

This is the third Laundry novel and it is slightly difficult to get into without knowing the back history from Bob Howard's previous adventures. There are a lot of references to other missions with all sort of ridiculous code names such as Club Zero, Bloody Baron, Case Nightmare Green which are not explained at first and make it difficult to engage with the story. Eventually the nerd speak is left behind and the relevance of all the missions is made clear in the latter part of the book. The story does gather pace and becomes a real old fashioned page turner.

The world that Charles Stross has created is a very inventive if rather scary. He has imagined a multiverse where most of the dimensionality of space-time is hidden from us and only partially accessible through the use of magic. It is magic that also allows us to manipulate and communicate with all the extra dimensional entities that live elsewhere. This is a very clever and compelling spy mystery with a huge twist. Some of the ideas in the book are simply bonkers and it this vibrant and bold imagination that makes the story great fun. There is also plenty of dark humour that make the rather gruesome subject matter a little more palatable. For the horror fans we get a fine helping of demonic beings and satanic rituals complete with human sacrifices. For the spy thriller fans we have a slowly unfolding, updated Cold War mystery involving the desperate search for top secret documents, which, in the wrong hand, could precipitate the unleashing of such supernatural powers that the our very existence could be at stake. Stross makes good use of mundane London locations and by adding new frightening dimensions to even the most normal to our eyes suburban alleyway. The constant battle between our reality and the aliens in the alternative multiverse makes the story both compelling and entertaining.

Overall this is an enjoyable read and I would certainly be keen to try out the earlier books in the series.

Further reading suggestions: Scar Night by Alan Campbell, Deep Fear (Pure Dead) by Debi Gliori, and Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey.

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