contentSuccessors to the Lovecraftian legacy are many and variable, but Charles Stross‘s Laundry Files cycle is among the most distinguished. Scientific rigour combined with bleak pessimism would surely appeal to HPL himself, especially when seasoned with the same genre spice as Weird Tales days – updated to espionage potboilers and Tom Clancy. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, though, because Stross manages to play off the grubbiness of a UK civil service department (the dirty-linen-festooned Laundry) against the grim horror of its raison d’etre and the Kafkaesque irony of bureaucracies stacking card indices against annihilation, in a way that reinforces all the themes. And The Rhesus Chart is the latest to chronicle the misadventures Bob Howard (not his true name), our thauma-computational Dutch-dyke-finger-boy defender against the onset of Night.

This time, Howard unearths a nest of vampires within a City of London investment bank, led anything-but-coincidentally by his former girlfriend Mhari, who turns [sic] quite literally into the Predatory Vampy Ex from Hell. Her manipulations of the creaking bureaucracy of Bob’s agency as it tries to co-opt these dubious new assets make for some of the many comic interludes in the book. Unfortunately, she’s not the best or the only manipulator, as older more secretive master vampires play out their own turf war, with the newer nightcrawlers and most of the Laundry slated for collateral damage.

There’s some predictable ribbing of City banker types (bloodsucking ruthless cabals draining the lower orders – do I need to draw you a rhesus chart?) but it doesn’t go as far as the anti-evangelical grudge match of The Apocalypse Codex – although in the light of the Duggar revelations, you wonder if Stross had it right all along … His rehash of vampirism, for me at least, isn’t the most satisfying part of the book – the origin story just doesn’t rise to the same heights as Peter Watts. However, his take on the predation patterns and psychology of vampires is both convincing and very chilling.

The Laundry Files series has visibly alternated between darker, grittier volumes and lighter more Bondesque tales, and knockers might carp at a suspiciously low body count among the friendlies in what is after all a losing battle against the End Times. Not on this go-round. This is one of the blackest episodes since the original The Atrocity Archive, and about the only lovable character who doesn’t end up dead or horribly changed by the end is Spooky the cat. Which makes it all the more effective as horror. Stross’s (piss) take on vampirism works out rather more horrific than the same done straight, and the chessboard for the master vampires’ face-off finishes as a smoking blood-spattered hole in the map with most of the pawns and higher-value pieces swept into the garbage compactor. And considering this is just a sideshow before the main event When The Stars Are Right, things bode well – or badly – for the grand finale of the series. To Vantablack values of black.

Teleread rating: TeleRead Rating: 4 e-readers out of 5


  1. Just so people know, Paul’s well-done review drew a bunch of Likes and so on. But all the social media counters messed up and set him back to zero after we added a category to those he had already listed for the post. Likes vanished from one of my own posts, too. Yes, we’ll be replacing the existing counter system. Same for the commenting system.

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