The Rhesus Chart: Bob takes on a clan of vampire bankers

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross science fiction book reviewsThe Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart is the fifth and most recent novel in Charles Stross’ LAUNDRY FILES. Bob Howard has been moving up the ranks in the Laundry — not due to any particular motivation or ambition on his part, but just because he has managed, so far, to stay alive as he and his fellow agents battle the eldritch horrors who are trying to find their way into our universe so they can eat us.

While doing some data mining in his office one day, Bob happens to notice a small but statistically significant outbreak of an illness that looks like Mad Cow disease in an area of London. Curious, he begins to investigate by consulting a neurologist, looking at cadavers, and tracing the habits of the people who’ve died of the disease. Eventually this leads him to a small group of data analysts who work for a London bank. One of them accidentally programmed a piece of software which turned them all into vampires who can use their vampire mojo to commit insider training. Unfortunately, they need to drink human blood, so they’ve been feeding from the cleaning staff. They don’t realize that this is causing their “donors” to catch a fast-acting brain degenerating disease. They also don’t know that they’re being stalked by a sexy vampire hunter who’s even scarier than they are.

During his investigation, Bob encounters a couple of major roadblocks. One is that the Laundry doesn’t believe in vampires, so Bob’s conclusions are a hard sell. Why doesn’t the Laundry believe in vampires? Hint: It might be a conspiracy which Bob will need to uncover. The other roadblock is that the leader of the vampire bankers (Haha! Sorry, that’s just so funny — vampire bankers. Haha!) is Mhari, his psycho ex-girlfriend, and she’s still got connections to the Laundry. Now that she’s a blood-sucking vampire banker, she’s even crazier than before. Then there are the usual personal problems. Bob’s wife Mo hates her gruesome job and is becoming depressed. They want to have children, but fear bringing any into the world because it’s only a matter of time before the eldritch horrors come and get us.

As you can see, Bob’s got a difficult job to do in The Rhesus Chart and, as usual, he does it with a little bit of bumbling and quite a lot of humor. I didn’t appreciate this vampire plot quite as much as I liked the previous vampire-free books, but I was still entertained all the way through. I love Bob’s voice and his SFF in-jokes (such as when he coins the term “Gormenghastly” to describe some ugly gothic architecture, or uses the word “sparkles” to describe what happens when he shoots a vampire with his basilisk gun). I’m also happy to see that Bob’s friend Pete is becoming a more important character. He’s the Vicar who got dragged into the Laundry after he helped Bob translate a heretical Bible text in the previous novel, The Apocalypse Codex.

At the conclusion of The Rhesus Chart, there are major changes in the Laundry and Bob’s personal life. Things are getting darker as the end is getting nearer. I’m certain that Bob will not be the same person in the next novel, The Annihilation Score, which we’re expecting in July 2015. I’m looking forward to it. At least two additional novels are planned for this series: The Nightmare Stacks and The Delirium Library.

Gideon Emery continues to entertain me with his narration of the audio version of THE LAUNDRY FILES. In The Rhesus Chart he mispronounces the “chi” in “chi-squared” as “chee,” but other than that, it’s a masterful performance. I will definitely be choosing the audio version when The Annihilation Score is released.

~Kat Hooper


The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross science fiction book reviewsI picked up The Rhesus Chart for two reasons: 1) It was the only book in the series that the bookstore had, and 2) Kat’s review had been so funny I wanted to read that book.

This is the fifth book in Charles Stross’s THE LAUNDRY FILES, an urban fantasy series centered on Bob Howard, a British civil servant who fights, and studies, supernatural creatures. Bob is the reluctant protégée of a Soul Eater (who works for the same agency he does); his wife, who also works for the Laundry, wields a devastating supernatural weapon that is taking a toll on her. Bob tries to get through his days, which involve closing portals to other realms, fighting monsters, fixing tech hardware and attending far too many meetings.

Kat’s review grabbed me with the phrase “vampire bankers,” and vampire bankers play a large part in this story. They aren’t actually bankers; they’re techies who work for an international investment bank, determining algorithms to predict the markets — see? They’re practically vampires already. The funniest scenes in this book involve the team who has become, um, infected, as they have meetings, using a white board and sticky notes to draw up a Strengths and Challenges list and creating a set of items “to action” in the future, because, yes, they use “action” as a verb.

On the flip side of the humor, Bob struggles to convince the Laundry that vampires actually exist, because in an agency that has been around for almost a millennium, which has fought eldritch Elder Gods, closed those deadly portals, and put down all manner of beasties, everyone knows that vampires don’t exist. The reasons for that certainty are part of the plot of The Rhesus Chart.

This is the first LAUNDRY FILES book I’ve read, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t recommend starting here. That said, I was able to follow the current adventure without confusion. The Rhesus Chart has a trenchant wit and lots of humor but it is not a light story. At the end, things have changed drastically for Bob and his friends, and his marriage, which was already showing strain, is teetering on the brink.

I love Stross’s humor; I also love his horror; especially the terrifying weapon which Mo, Bob’s wife, uses. I liked the concept here, although I think the nature of the vampire “infection” and the effect on victims strained for plausibility. I love books that make fun of bureaucracy and meetings, and Stross does it well, but I got tired of it about halfway through the book. There was just a bit too much. In spite of the involved set-up, Bob’s engaging first-person narrative voice, and the humor, I thought the book dragged in the middle.

In spite of that, I laughed out loud several times, and I was getting a lump in my throat in the final pages. I liked The Rhesus Chart so much I’m going to back and start reading the whole series from the beginning.

~Marion Deeds

Publication Date: July 1, 2014. As a newly appointed junior manager within the Laundry—the clandestine organization responsible for protecting Britain against supernatural threats—Bob Howard is expected to show some initiative to help the agency battle the forces of darkness. But shining a light on things best left in the shadows is the last thing Bob wants to do—especially when those shadows hide an occult parasite spreading a deadly virus. Traders employed by a merchant bank in London are showing signs of infection—an array of unusual symptoms such as superstrength and -speed, an uncanny talent for mind control, an extreme allergic reaction to sunlight, and an unquenchable thirst for blood. While his department is tangled up in bureaucratic red tape (and Buffy reruns), debating how to stop the rash of vampirism, Bob digs deeper into the bank’s history—only to uncover a bloodcurdling conspiracy between men and monsters…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. Kat, I read part of this review out loud at the bookstore and we were all doubled over with laughter.

  2. “Vampire bankers” was the laughter-inciting phrase.

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