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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars


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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 August 2014
"If the Security Service is the Circus, then Section 37 is where we keep the clowns."

Toby Greene has just annoyed his boss in the Secret Intelligence Service once too often; getting rid of him to Section 37 seems the ideal solution. But Toby refuses to give in and fade away once he meets August Shining, the head (and only operative) of Section 37, who introduces him to a world that Toby could never have imagined in his wildest nightmares.

This is a great read; a skilful blend of Cold War and modern-day espionage, with a bit of supernatural and horror thrown in for good measure. There is a great mix of humour with horror, spying with scaring, delight with dread. Toby is a rather lost soul whose relationship with August Shining (and his dotty sister April) seems to be shaping up to be something rather special. I really liked these characters and the rest of the characters that Toby found himself sharing the planet with, and want to read more about the shenanigans of Section 37 and their tireless endeavours to keep the rest of us poor souls safe from all the oddness in the world. Luckily, there's a sequel to this book just coming out, The Rain-Soaked Bride. I look forward immensely to reading it.

The author has published several books, including some in the Torchwood series (which gives an idea of the 'flavour' of the Clown Service books).
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 August 2014
"If the Security Service is the Circus, then Section 37 is where we keep the clowns."

Toby Greene has just annoyed his boss in the Secret Intelligence Service once too often; getting rid of him to Section 37 seems the ideal solution. But Toby refuses to give in and fade away once he meets August Shining, the head (and only operative) of Section 37, who introduces him to a world that Toby could never have imagined in his wildest nightmares.

This is a great read; a skilful blend of Cold War and modern-day espionage, with a bit of supernatural and horror thrown in for good measure. There is a great mix of humour with horror, spying with scaring, delight with dread. Toby is a rather lost soul whose relationship with August Shining (and his dotty sister April) seems to be shaping up to be something rather special. I really liked these characters and the rest of the characters that Toby found himself sharing the planet with, and want to read more about the shenanigans of Section 37 and their tireless endeavours to keep the rest of us poor souls safe from all the oddness in the world. Luckily, there's a sequel to this book just coming out, The Rain-Soaked Bride. I look forward immensely to reading it.

The author has published several books, including some in the Torchwood series (which gives an idea of the 'flavour' of the Clown Service books).
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Hard to avoid comparisons with Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” series. There we have PC Peter Grant operating in a department of the Met Police that deal with…weirdness. The Clown Service refers to an element of Britain’s intelligence service that also deals with weirdness. New recruit Toby is transferred there as a punishment but finds his new job may actually be the right place for him and help him not only deal with his inner daemons but also the more physical problem of his boss being trapped in the Twilight Zone and the dead coming back to life as part of a cold war Russian plot.

It’s fun but with a strong lean towards the Urban Fantasy and some complex themes. There are some good characters that are fleshed out and there is also a sense of humour in the writing and the dialogue. Interestingly the narrative switched from third to first person which confused at first (and there were character perspectives also told in the first person, so you needed to switch into the way the story was being told).

So I did enjoy it and will pick up follow up books. It differs from Rivers of London as that series almost has London as an additional character with strong links into the myths and history of the City, the Clown Service is set in London but with less of a focus on the City itself.
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When Toby Greene fails spectacularly in a routine babysitting mission for the British security services (leaving him with both concussion and egg on his face), his aggrieved superior demotes him to Section 37. Section 37 has been run by August Shining for the last 40 years and is dedicated to tackling paranormal threats against Britain. No one takes it seriously, least of all Toby.

But when a former Soviet spy pops up intent on reactivating a Cold War program to raise the dead and destroy Britain, Toby finds himself having to learn everything that Shining can teach him because the countdown to Armageddon has started …

Guy Adams’s fantasy spy thriller combines a Le Carre cold war spy thriller with a Ben Aaronovitch attention to paranormal world-building in an entertaining romp with a nice spin on zombies. Although Toby’s a lightly sketched character, I wasn’t too worried about that given that this is the first in a series and I liked the hints of a troubled background, notably his PTSD suffered after something happened during a mission in Iraq and his burgeoning relationship with August. My favourite scenes are August’s flashbacks to the 60s and particularly his relationship with his paranormal assets (whose abilities I won’t spoil, although Cyril is probably the best), but August himself plays second fiddle to his indomitable sister, April, who moves through political circles and espionage rings like a force of nature. I also liked Tamar, August’s upstairs neighbour and self-appointed protector who has a troubled background but wish that Soviet spy, Krishnin, had been a little more rounded in terms of motivation. The plot rolls along nicely with plenty of action to keep me entertained and Adams also introduces a background arc that has promise of more complicated long-term shenanigans. All in all, it’s a fun read and I’ll definitely check out the sequel.

For me the best scenes in the books are those set in the 60s, which we see through August and Krishnin’s eyes and which are atmospheric and evocative. I liked the links back to cold war politics and the political uncertainties that exist on both sides of the Iron Curtain coupled with Krishnin’s ruthlessness in pursuing his agenda. The zombie element is also well executed, although I’d have liked a little more development on how this was intended to work in practice, given the limited time it was in operation.
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on 10 January 2016
Toby Greene has cocked up one too many times in the eyes of his section chief, a man with a surly disposition and a healthy dislike of our hero. Toby is therefore transferred to the department within the British Secret Service, dubbed the Circus, where all doomed agents are consigned to die – section 37. This is the department which deals with supernatural threats to Britain and which the Intelligence Service regards as so ridiculous that it’s ‘…where we keep the clowns,’ hence the title of Guy Adams’ first book in his supernatural spy series, The Clown Service.

Olag Krishnin is an ex-KGB agent, and Cold War era warhorse, with a knack for passing between realities. He’s also found a way to animate the dead by crossing magic with technology and plans to raise an army of the dead to wreak havoc on the UK.

It falls to Section 37 and our heroes: Toby Greene, August Shining, the head of Section 37 and Toby’s new boss, Tamar, August’s ‘bodyguard’, and April Shining, August’s sister, to find out why the loony Russian is hell bent on unleashing a horde of zombies on Blighty and to stop his madness.

Along the way Toby will learn the supernatural ropes of Section 37 and meet some weird and wonderful characters. He will also make some powerful new friends, not least of which is August, a man with Gandalf-like knowledge of all things supernatural.

The verdict

The book is a fantastic read; the action moves at a good pace and the story is engaging as Adams flits between narrative styles. At times the action unfolds through Toby’s perspective, first person, and sometimes in the third person, and the story is also well seasoned with a goodly dose of humour, for example, when Toby’s section chief expresses his hatred of our hero: ‘You work in intelligence – a fact so weighted by irony that I would be tempted to laugh, were it not for the bubbling disgust I feel for you robbing me of my mirth.’

These words vividly conjure the image of a fat and balding, and well dressed, Whitehall civil servant. Adams does a wonderful job of creating a gallery of fascinating characters; August Shining is suave, debonair and charming and wise, Toby Greene is a bit gormless but a good lad and so utterly endearing, and Tamar is just sultry and alluring. April Shining is wonderfully introduced to us as, ‘…a hostile weather front in a cardigan and beads.’
Our villains, Russian or otherwise, are not caricatures but are believable and, in some cases, quite likable.

The Clown Service is a delicious cocktail of all your favourite British spy icons - a dash of Bond, a sprinkling of the Avengers, with a twist of the supernatural for added flavour. So if you fancy a read that combines the best of British spy thrillers with humour and the supernatural, then you may find The Clown Service is your cup of tea!
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on 30 July 2014
When The Clown Service arrived the cover grabbed me as it was seemingly so at odds with the title. It evokes a classic cold war spy thriller, but in a colourful way. It is also set in a supernatural London; that fact alone would have sold me. But it was not just the supernatural London setting that made this book so much fun, it was its tone and sense of humour as well. In addition, The Clown Service's plot was extremely entertaining and very well put together. I was really pleased with the book and while the story was impeccably paced, I would have loved for it to have been a bit longer, so I could have spent just a bit more time with the characters.

The Clown Service centres on Toby Greene. He's a British Intelligence agent, who has been just reassigned to what seems to be a career-killing department. And Toby is seemingly somewhat of a failure, as his boss is keen to remind him. His last mistake - letting an asset he was babysitting get away - gets him shunted off to Section 37. But it's not just at work where Toby is treated like he's less than capable, his father treats him the same way. Toby is someone with a past, having been deployed to a hot zone in the Middle East and having come back with a case of PTSD, a diagnosis he roundly denies as he doesn't want to be judged unfit for duty. I loved how Adams incorporated this into Toby's character and his reactions to events when the Fear - as Toby calls it - overtakes him. In contrast, he accepts all the weirdness Shining reveals to him as part of the reality of working at Section 37 almost too calmly.

Toby's relationship with Shining was somewhat reminiscent of Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant from The Folly series and his bond with his superior Inspector Nightingale. Like Peter Toby is taken under his wing by an eccentric older mentor. August Shining is fabulous and I loved that he believed in Toby's capability and wanted to train him. In fact, Shining is the rare type of mentor who seems to want to give his protégée all the facts, not keeping secrets. Something which only makes the fact that circumstances make it impossible for Shining to actually give Toby all the details all the more frustrating, both for Toby and the reader.

The narrative is nicely structured, told in two timelines, one in the present and one set in the early Sixties, when Shining first encounters Krishnin, the villain of the book. Much of the story set in the past is conveyed through Shining or others sharing their stories with Toby, which is an enjoyable way to frame a secondary narrative. With Toby being introduced to Section 37 and learning more about the supernatural reality of his world, Adams is also able to insert some interesting story beats and Chekov's guns that he then has paying off at exactly the right moment. The Clown Service was faultlessly paced, both in terms of its action and its humour.

Of course, Toby and Shining can't defeat the evil Krishnin alone, they do have back up. I loved all the sidekicks and their various abilities, some of which were truly supernatural, while others where more of the 'technology so far advanced it seems like magic'-variety. My absolute favourite secondary characters, however, were Shining's neighbour Tamar and his sister April (their parents didn't have much imagination when it came to names) who were fantastic. Especially April was a strong-as-nails, eccentric old biddy, who appeared to my mind's eye as a sort of mixture between Professor McGonagall and Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet). The ending was great, because it's an ending that is not undividedly happy. Toby, August and April come out of it indisputably changed and Adams' is a world where actions definitely have consequences.

I had a fabulous time with The Clown Service and I'm excited to have the second book in the series, The Rain-Soaked Bride, already on the TBR-pile and I can't wait to start it. Once I pry it out of the husband's hands when he has finished it that is, because he is currently devouring it. For fans of Aaronovitch's The Folly series and Stross' Laundry Files this will be a great series to dive into and I highly recommend it.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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on 2 June 2014
I really enjoyed this book; in particularly the quiry but almost-believable characters. However, I sometimes wondered whether I was actually reading a "Rivers of London" book. Even though it's SIS rather than The Met, counter-espionage rather than counter-crime, I did wonder if you could actually transpose the characters from one novel to another and not notice any difference.
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on 5 November 2014
The Clown service is set in alternative supernatural filled London. Toby works for Section 37, the governments own version of a paranormal task force. Toby is a wonderful three dimensional character who often reminds me of Billy Pilgrim from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter house-5.

Extremely witty, The Clown service doesn’t take its self too seriously and that is where all the bizarre charm comes from. It is innovative, entertaining and hard to forget. I am a new to Guy Adams, but I can say I am a fan now and I hope this developed into a series because I want more.

Excellent adventure filled with cold war mad scientists, spies, and just enough supernatural experiences to keep me hooked from the first page. I highly recommend.
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on 21 June 2015
Loved it. Better be a second book or I'll be most upset.

Reminded me of Stross' The Laundry, but much creepier. No one does weird, creepy alternative realities like Mr Adams.
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on 4 July 2016
I admit it took me a little time to get into this book, but boy was it worth it. Intelligent and interesting. I sincerely hope that the next book will be as good as the first.
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