Bob Howard has got the True Religion: he knows there are horrors from beyond that don't believe in any of our holy books and he needs to stop them. So when a TV evangelist who seems to have genuine holy powers appears, Bob has to find out what is going on
The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth instalment in The Laundry Files series, and you'd be well advised to start by reading The Atrocity Archives (The Laundry Files)
. Stross lays out the background and gets readers up to speed with his usual dry wit, and a new reader will probably get along ok, but there are frequent references to previous books.
For anyone who hasn't read the previous instalments in this excellent series: there are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, but the computing revolution has made it all too easy to Find Them Out, with the result that Lovecraftian horrors can be summoned from the vasty depths of the Mandelbrot set with the right iPhone app. The Laundry is the British secret occult service, saving the UK from itself, but being a civil service department its agents need to succeed despite poor intel, outdated equipment, and the need to submit expense claims in triplicate The series has a strong vein of dry humour, usually from the narration of protagonist Bob Howard: civil service IT guy, reluctant spy, and computational demonologist.
Previous books have drawn inspiration from classic spy writers, and so The Apocalypse Codex features Persephone Hazard, a loving tribute to Modesty Blaise
, the 1960s answer to James Bond. She is recast here as a freelancing agent (not to mention witch), more or less loyal to The Laundry's aims, called in for some plausible deniability when dealing with a serious problem: Pastor Raymond Schiller, an American religious evangelist, has some unusual powers and appears to have got too close to the Prime Minister. He needs to be checked out. So off she heads to the states, with her utterly loyal sidekick Jonny McTavish, and her new "liaison officer" Bob Howard in tow.
Hazard is an excellent character: tough, ambiguous, slowly revealing her motivations to the reader while delivering some top-notch secret agent action. It's a good job too, because she takes equal billing with Bob in this book, while Jonny gets some good scenes too.
The main event in the series is going to be Case Nightmare Green, an imminent occult apocalypse. The series has been slowly hinting at this, and it is clear that the latter half of the series will see things getting very grim indeed. In some ways, The Apocalypse Codex seems like Stross is getting the series prepped for the big event. The plot is tighter than some of the other Laundry novels, rattling along at a good pace with minimal digressions, but it doesn't move the series along as much as The Fuller Memorandum (The Laundry Files)
did. The US setting means more about the enigmatic Black Chamber, and elements from previous novels return in very worrying ways.
The Laundry Files is one of my favourite series at the moment, not least because Stross is an excellent writer. The combination of well-drawn characters and a thumping plotline is compelling. The Apocalypse Codex is required reading if you liked the previous books. If you haven't read the previous books, go get them quick.