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52. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

This novella was recommended to me by Jonathan L Howard, author of the excellent Carter and Lovecraft.  It's basically a non-racist re-telling of The Horror at Red Hook.

The first half is the backstory of Black Tom (Charles Thomas Tester), a black man in 1920s Harlem who makes ends meet by doing what looks like low-level gangster jobs (acting as courier, etc) except that the trade is in occult objects, and his musings on how he's not going to allow himself to be broken by manual labour and racism like his father was.  This is the better half of the book.

The second half is from the point of view of one of the detectives hired by the family of the mysterious white dude who is buying up lots of slum property in Red Hook and this is where it becomes obvious this story is a re-imaging of Lovecraft's most infamously racist tale.  Although it is where most of the action lies, is less fulfilling because the character just isn't interesting.  However, the final battle and the outcome are very well done.

A quick read, and definitely worth your time.
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46. The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross

The seventh in Stross' Laundry series, in which Lovecraftian horrors from other dimensions are real, and there is a branch of the Civil Service to deal with it.

Regular readers will know that I love these books, and I was really excited to find that this one takes place in Leeds. It turns out that was kind of distracting - I kept having to check with Google maps that I remembered correctly where places are. But it made me appreciate things like the chapter title "the Doom that Came to Harehills" - I worked in Harehills for two years.

Like the last book, Bob is no longer the protagonist - he's now one of the scary people (in the loosest possible use of "people") on Mahogany Row. The protagonist is Alex, one of the vampires (sorry, PHANGs) from the last book but one. I like Alex a lot. He's funny and adorable. The adversaries are the Laundry-world take on the Fae.

So everything that should make it Right Up My Street, but I still struggled a bit with it. Part of it was a technical thing - the use of italics to demonstrate that the Fae are speaking in their own language. In my visually impaired state, I struggle with italics. Added to the fact that I never like the parts in books where the POV shifts to the antagonists, that meant quite a lot of the book wasn't that engaging.

It's definitely not that he's phoning them in (something some authors do when they get to this point in a series) - it's definitely well thought through.

I think the problem was that it wasn't The Annihilation Score - Mo is by far the most interesting character in the series, it's about classical music, and Mo's violin scares the ever-loving bejeezus out of me.
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34. Dead Shift by John Llewellyn Probert

I'm not sure how I came to be aware of the launch event for this book, but it was held at a book shop in Clevedon called Books on the Hill that I'd been meaning to visit for some time, so I dragged Jason out to the seaside early on a Saturday morning to pick up a copy (and other things).

It's a Lovecraftian horror novella. A dying man performs a ritual to open the gates to another dimension in hospital (rather than at the place of great evil he originally intended) and three doctors, stuck on the night shift, have to save the world as the hospital is cut off from the rest of reality.

Not complicated, not even particularly original, but a terrifically fun read nonetheless. Some of it is genuinely creepy, balanced by some laugh-out-loud funny moments. Even if I hadn't read the author's note at the end it would have been obvious to me that his day job is in the NHS, because he captures that so perfectly.

Even though Probert lives locally and has written loads of stuff, I'd never heard of him before. I will definitely be seeking out more of his work.
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33. The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

I was eagerly anticipating this and then for some reason thought it was due out in August and missed the release by a few weeks.

Anyway, it's wonderful. Just when you're wondering where the Laundry series can go (because there are major game-changing events at the end of every book), this one is written from the point of view of Mo, Bob's wife.

Throughout the series we have an idea that Mo is a more powerful demon-banishing badass than Bob (as well as the functional adult in the relationship). And she has the coolest weapon - a violin that kill demons.

In this one we find out just how scary the violin is (very) and the toll it is taking on her - it tries to kill Bob (now the Eater of Souls) and so he has to move out.

Meanwhile, there is a plague of people gaining superhero powers, Mo is outed by a BBC24 news team subduing one who uses his powers for evil, so she is tasked with being the public face of the new supernatural policing unit, including COBRA meetings, briefings with the Home Secretary and is given a crack team of Bob's ex-girlfriends to save her bacon.

It's the usual Laundry stuff - really funny, lots of action - but I really related to this one too much, especially the parts about dealing with management bullshit at work (from the perspective of being the manager).

I bought this on my Kindle because I'm ripping the house apart and need to have less stuff lying around, but then I went into Waterstones and saw how pretty the dust jacket is on the hardcover. Now I want to get that too.
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33. The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

The brand new Laundry novel. At the end of the last one, if I remember correctly, Bob was steered in a direction that would give him a lot more high-level international work, so I was expecting something jet-setting.

Instead, in this one he's investigating a nest of vampires (which supposedly can't exist, even in the Lovecraftian Laundryverse) working in the City, and flushing out a mole in the department.

It's (intentionally) very Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I'm glad I just watched the film. It's very, very good despite the fact that if you look too hard at the mechanics of vampirism it doesn't really even work in the Laundryverse. I think.

Mostly it's just funny. However, the opening scene (summoning grid going wrong) is pretty scary, and the very end (which would be telling) is downright bone-chilling.

34. The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

Reserving the new book at the library reminded me I've never read the second, so I ordered that as well. This is the James Bond one. It alternately works and doesn't - bits of it are hilarious and wonderful, other bits fall a bit flat. I had some ideas why that is.

Having recently discovered that Stross has based each volume on a different spy novel series, I'm finding it all even more interesting. I had lots of thoughts, particularly about how James Bond is fundamentally different from all the other post-war British spies, but I've been awake all day and am not well, so maybe another time.
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32. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This month's Bibliogoths selection, but as I can't go I'll post a review:

Imagine a world where Lovecraftian horrors can be summoned from alternate dimensions using an interesting mix of magic, mathematics and computer programming. There would, of course, be a super-secret layer of civil service to keep it all secret and under control. And count every last paper clip.

Sheer genius. Every single word. Hilarious and scary at the same time. I read a lot of good books, but this is the best thing I've read in a long time.

I shall be seeking out his other works forthwith.

33. In Sickness and in Power: Illness in heads of government during the last 100 years by David Owen

I have got to stop listening to Radio 4's Start the Week with the laptop on - if they're discussing a vaguely interesting book I log in to see if the library has it and reserve it if they do. This is quite often.

Lord Owen, long serving British politician who initially trained as a doctor, not surprisingly has an interest in how the health of heads of government has impacted on their governing. The first part is a bunch of short case studies of health problems various world leaders in the 20th century had; this is interesting but left me asking more questions than it answered. (This is generally a Good Thing, by the way). Part two is longer detailed case studies which, let's be honest, I was really only reading for the chapter on JFK. What is remarkable isn't so much that he functioned with so many serious health problems, but how appalling his treatment for them was, even by the standards of the time, until the last year or so of his life.

Where the book falls down, is that Owen has a bee in his bonnet about something he calls "the hubris syndrome" (he's written a whole book on the subject) which he admits isn't a recognised medical diagnosis, but he still devotes part 3 to a study of Bush and Blair's hubris over Iraq. Fascinating stuff, but does not fit well with the rest of the book, especially as he dismisses analysis of Hitler and Stalin by saying they didn't suffer from any formal psychiatric disorder.

Despite this inconsistency, I found this a really interesting and entertaining read.

His take-home message is "covering up illness is bad, m-kay".


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