It’s hard not to love Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series as a concept. A clandestine government agency of computational demonologists defend the world from horrors beyond space and time, all while trying to keep up with their expense reports. Magic is just applied mathematics and the computer age has drawn the attention of unsavory intelligences.
In a lesser writer’s hands, it would have been a fun bit of satire that would have made for a fun novella and that’s it. But Stross elevates it with each subsequent story, and it has become a consistently satisfying series. The Delirium Brief, the latest novel in the Laundry Files is no exception. It’s the culmination of a number of prior plot lines, and it becomes clear that all the characters’ prior decisions have had major consequences for which the Laundry must respond.
The book reconnects us with our earliest protagonist, sysadmin and demonologist Bob Howard, who has been mostly absent for the last two books while he came to terms with his new role as the Laundry’s resident Eater of Souls. Together the team must face old enemies who have learned a new and deadly strategy with which to battle the agency: privatization of government services. With a total government takeover by eldritch horrors being the cost for failure, the agency is forced to go rogue in order to protect the U.K. from its own compromised leadership.
Does any of this sound familiar?
The Delirium Brief is a well executed espionage adventure featuring a true deep state, where each and every employee of the agency is bound by a mystical geas to their oath of office, and the punishment for disobedience is immediate spontaneous combustion. While the monstrous threats to humanity make the moral choice of resistance obvious, Stross doesn’t shy away from the ethical dilemma of an arm of the government acting against the orders of their own lawfully elected masters. The leadership of the Laundry is forced to make difficult choices, as well as uncomfortable alliances, and as a reader, I was consumed with the same unease and dread as our heroes while they wrestled with these issues.
Uncomfortable reflections to reality aside, it’s a rollicking good read and Stross’ prose propels you along. It’s darker, and there is less humor than the other books, but that feels right for this story. I finished the book desperately craving the next in the series. I need to know what happens next, and what the future holds for Capital Laundry Services.