cover image The Nightmare Stacks

The Nightmare Stacks

Charles Stross. Ace, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-425-28119-2

In the latest Laundry Files supernatural investigation, Stross makes the wise decision to move away from the jaded and worn voices of Bob Howard and Mo O'Brien as protagonists, but the story suffers from muddled plotting and jokes that too often fall flat. Dr. Alex Schwartz is a newly created vampire (having survived the vampire onslaught in The Rhesus Chart) who's still learning the ropes of the Laundry, the British secret agency that deals with horrors and extradimensional threats. Alex is sent to his hometown of Leeds to scope out a potential new headquarters, where he meets a woman named Cassie who has her identity and memories stolen by Agent First, a member of a long-forgotten race that is on the verge of extinction. Stross continues to ably mix technology and Lovecraftian horrors%E2%80%94finally letting the tech advance to the age of smartphones, which helps the story along considerably%E2%80%94and delivers a stellar ending. Alas, the third-person voice that delivers much of the narration (other than some of Alex's diary entries) never gives the material the snark and verve it merits. Fans of Stross's worldbuilding will still be entertained, but compared to the rest of the series, this installment is underwhelming. (June)