The novel “The Rhesus Chart” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2014. It’s part of the Laundry series and follows “The Apocalypse Codex“.
Among the projects Bob Howard is developing at the Laundry there’s one to analyze the causes of death in the territory. This would be useful, for example, to find out if someone died because of the necromantic version of mad cow disease. The first test gives disturbing results with the need to investigate.
While his wife Mo is engaged in a difficult mission abroad, Bob Howard finds himself involved in a task more complex than he expected. In his investigation he has to deal, among other things, with some financial activities related to the use of blood but it’s well known that vampires do not exist.
The Laundry Series has been mixing from the beginning many funny geek contents to darker tones but with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN under development things are getting worse. Already in the previous novels there was abundance of death and destruction, in “The Rhesus Chart” that trend continues.
The beginning of the novel is, however, one of the most hilarious geek moments of the whole series that reminded me of why I love the Laundry series. Andy, a colleg
of Bob Howard’s at the Laundry, makes a great mess evoking an entity using a version customized by him of the standard demonological code on an Arduino board.
This beginning has consequences later in the novel but it might sound like a short self-contained story attached to the novel and this is one of the problems of “The Rhesus Chart.” In the earlier novels of the Laundry series the plot tended to be linear, so much that initially they were told in the first person by Bob Howard. This time the plot is more convoluted and there are more than ever parts of the plot that Bob didn’t live but this is another problem.
Several years of Bob Howard’s life are told in the Laundry series and they also include his relationship with his wife Mo, also a Laundry agent. In “The Rhesus Chart” among other things, Mo tells her husband of her mission to Iran and that’s perhaps the darkest part of the whole series, also because removing the supernatural elements there are references to events too close to those actually happening in Iran.
The problem in my opinon comes in the parts of the plot connected to various levels of Laundry operations and also to various levels of personal relationships among various characters. The Laundry series has always contained various satirical moments regarding the bureaucracy in what is after all a government agency but in “The Rhesus Chart” this sometimes becomes a burden.
In “The Rhesus Chart” Bob Howard sometimes speaks out about internal committees with meetings, various regulations, and more. Moments that are fun when they’re short are at risk of becoming boring: for example, Bob’s grievances lose sharpness when those moments get longer or become repetitive.
Another problem is that those digressions are long parts that slow down the story’s pace a number of times while the ending is hurried. After telling various parts of the story from the point of view of different characters, Charles Stross chose having Bob Howard to sum up what he discovered from other people about the most important events of the novel.
In my opinion, “The Rhesus Chart” has its strong point in Charles Stross’ usual brilliant ideas. The basic idea is great with the discovery of activities that seem to be related to vampirism when it’s well known that vampires don’t exist and if the Laundry experts say that they can be trusted. However, the development of that idea seemed to me a bit chaotic.
It’s a shame also because of the importance of “The Rhesus Chart” within the Laundry series. The various novels tell autonomous stories but there are various connections among them with developments in the history of Bob Howard and some other important character with consequences that are to be seen. Usually there are plots that end, in this case a lot is left open.
Overall, I might still consider “The Rhesus Chart” a good novel but the problem is that it’s part of a really high level series. In my opinion, if you read the previous novels can’t skip this one because of its importance.