On My Shelves: The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files #3)


Bob Howard, IT expert, computational demonologist, and sometime field agent for the ultra-top-secret U.K. agency called The Laundry, is back. Fresh from the James Bondian adventure of The Jennifer Morgue, Bob's married to Mo, who he rescued in the first book and who returned the favor with a vengeance in the second, and while any marriage that includes two people who know about the Great Old Ones and their impending arrival in CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN isn't going to be filled with picket fences and cheery nights all the time, you might hope that it'd at least help.

Maybe it does, but when you're literally working to protect the world from the scum of the multiverse – and most of the multiverse appears to be soul-eating scum – it's not gonna be easy.

Bob catches a very bad break early on, with a ritual that goes horribly wrong and kills someone in front of him. Despite Bob's feelings of guilt, it's not really entirely his fault; he was, as Bert Gummer would say in Tremors 2, "… denied critical, need-to-know information…" about the thing he was trying to deal with. Still, his fault or not, it was his ritual that blew up in a nice old lady's face and left her an unrecognizable corpse, and Bob being the basically nice guy he is, this leaves him in a very bad state. It doesn't help that Mo's sometimes being sent of very nasty field missions in which she uses a Lovecraftian violin as a combat weapon. The two of them have issues, and those issues aren't ones any ordinary therapist is going to help with! (in fact, they're the kind of issues that would put most therapists in therapy)

But at least Bob finally has a manager who understands how to properly support her employees, and fight for them against the system.

Not that this seems likely to help much when James Angleton, Bob's boss and mentor and a DSS ("Detached Special Secretary" officially, "Deeply Scary Sorcerer" more accurately) disappears, leaving Bob with the responsibility of finding out what happened to him – and why even other governments are desperately looking for an old pre-war document called "The Fuller Memorandum"!

     (There may be SPOILERS in some of the stuff that follows, so if you don't want any of that, just take it from me that this book is excellent, and if you liked the first two you want to read this one!)

The Fuller Memorandum is just as well-written and paced as the prior two, or more so. Charlie Stross is trying to keep multiple plot threads – some of which won't actually conclude until later books – going while maintaining focus on the main plot of this one, and as Bob Howard slowly climbs the ladder of responsibility and knowledge in the computational-Lovecraftian world of the Laundry that means the plots get bigger, nastier, and more frightening.

At its heart, this is a spy thriller like the other two, with added supernatural Lovecraftian horror; the first book was deliberately patterned around the works of Len Deighton, the second very obviously Ian Fleming, and this one is a nod to Anthony Price. I rather like that approach myself – Kathleen and I used it in our Saint Seiya universe (trying to do each book as a different subgenre) and I intend to use something similar in the Ethical Magical Girl/Princess Holy Aura if it becomes a series rather than a one-off.

As a spy thriller, of course, that means that pretty much nothing is what it seems; even the poor little old lady that gets killed isn't exactly as harmless and innocent as her looks would imply. Every apparently-unrelated event turns out to be so very relevant, while the straightforward solutions naturally never apply. Poor Bob finds out that even his nice new line manager isn't on the straight and narrow, and boy, he really could have used some support on this one!

At the center of everything is the eponymous Fuller Memorandum, which talks in cryptic ways of the capture and binding of a powerful being called the Eater of Souls and how it was to be used by those binding him. For me, at least, it was instantly clear that the Eater of Souls was in fact Angleton himself – and that is, in fact, the case. Apparently, even an eldritch horror can "go native" if you make it live like a human being long enough; despite his completely non-human nature, Angleton has completely internalized the ideals of humanity and British honor in specific, and is working with all his capabilities to protect his adopted home… a sort of Elder Thing version of Kal-El, I guess.

But there are those who know of the ritual to summon and bind the Eater of Souls, and they think they might be able to make him work for THEM…

Bob's had some no-good, rotten, very bad days before, but Stross really puts him through the wringer with this one, culminating with forcing Bob into a pretty much untenable position in the middle of the ritual our baddies are performing. The result of the ritual… isn't quite what anyone expected, and Bob may never be the same.

Bob's dry, self-deprecatingly humorous, sometimes fatalistic voice is one of the keys to making the novel work. Written in a less detached voice, the events might become too horrific to read, because it really is a frightening universe that the Laundry inhabits. But even while being tortured in nauseating ways, Bob manages to convey the events, and even key aspects of the sensations, without quite crossing my threshold of tolerance. That's a pretty impressive achievement, as I said, because boy would it be easy to just skate right pass that threshold.

Still, ultimately, Bob does get out of it. Not unscathed. Not unchanged. But he does get out at least somewhat intact, and so does Angleton. The world is saved… for now.

At least until The Apocalypse Codex shows up…


Your comments or questions welcomed!