The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files, #3)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

Bob Howard’s not having a good time of it. A routine exorcism goes wrong; cultists are running around London, attacking him and his wife; his boss has disappeared; and he’s been seconded on to yet another committee. But at least he’s got a decent manager at the moment (following the demise of his last one).

The third Laundry novel is much darker than its predecessors, with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN starting to come to the fore, and much nastier scenes, including cannibalism and child sacrifice. It’s all relevant and you never get the impression that Stross is throwing stuff in purely to shock, but still, it does come as a bit of a shock to the system after the somewhat lighter hijinx of the previous novels.

The plot seemed a bit looser as well; I was able to guess the two big plot twists before they happened (which is unusual for me, I never see them coming), but this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book. Bob is still a great wise-cracking, Emacs-loving geek protagonist, and the supporting cast are all present and correct. Mo gets slightly scarier in each book, we get revelations about Angleton and a cameo from Pinky and Brains.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and sit in a corner and try not thinking too hard to do my bit to help prevent CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841497709
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Hull Zero Three

By Greg Bear

Rating: 4 stars

I man awakes naked and confused on the deck of a spaceship that is trying to kill him, with no memory of where or who he is. He has to stay alive long enough to try and figure out what’s gone wrong with the ship and to find the answers that may be found in the mysterious Hull Zero Three.

This is a pretty tense SF-horror, although perhaps thriller would be a better description than horror, since although it was tense and kept me turning pages, I didn’t feel the sense of personal discomfort that horror often realises in me (one reason why I avoid the genre). The trope of the small group of survivors on a large spaceship, with things trying to kill them is an old one, but Bear pulls it off here, with the central mystery being strong enough to keep me reading.

A colony ship that can create creatures from the templates in its gene banks, a war on the ship, conscience and metaphysics all pull together to form a compelling narrative, even if the final chapters were slightly confusing.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575100961
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2010

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John le Carré

Rating: 4 stars

This was a rather interesting book, and one that I enjoyed quite a lot. le Carré creates a different sort of spy, very different to the glamour of Bond. His hero, Leamas, is burned out and tired of the whole spying game, wanting to “come in from the cold”, as it were, but he has one last job to do before he can do that. Leamas is an intriguing character, tired, burned out and desperately wanting out of the whole game, but dutiful to the last and holding all that tiredness within himself. He’s very much the antithesis to Fleming’s Bond.

As much as anything else, this was a glimpse back into the world of the Cold War, something I only remember from my childhood and a time when the world was very clearly Us vs Them and even if you didn’t necessarily approve of what your own side was doing, anything that countered Them was (grudgingly) accepted.

I’ve heard of George Smiley from other media and this book was also interesting in that it effectively introduced Smiley off-screen, always lurking in the background but only making one fleeting appearance on to the page. As intriguing as Leamas is, I’d like to know more about Smiley (and, I suspect, so did many other of le Carré’s readers, since he goes off to star in several of his own novels).

While I’m not normally a fan of the spy/thriller genre, I definitely enjoyed this story and will be on the lookout for more of le Carré’s work.

Book details

ISBN: 9780340739648
Publisher: Sceptre
Year of publication: 1963

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

Rating: 3 stars

I had read this short novelette many years ago in school but picked it up recently for the first time since. I actually really enjoyed it. It’s an early spy thriller in which Richard Hannay returns to the Old Country from the colonies and finds himself caught up in a plot to bring the whole of Europe to war.

I found myself smiling at some of the period setting in the book, so unexpected for the genre, and Hannay not only had a lot of skill, but a lot of luck to help him throughout. I enjoyed some of the descriptions of Scotland, where much of the book is set, while Hannay is trying to avoid both the gang and the police, although it’s a very different Scotland to that which I’m familiar with, of course.

A short book that can be read in in just a few hours, it’s still great fun. I only discovered that Hannay went on to star in several other books as well and will have to look out for some of those.

Book details

Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Year of publication: 1915

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