The Laundry came out considerably weakened from the sequence of crisis in which it was involved and the invasion attempt from another dimension made its existence public. On a political level, this turned the agency into a scapegoat for all the recent dramatic events that couldn’t be covered up.
The British government plans to shut down the Laundry but the need for an agency capable of handling threats and events linked to magic is now clear. The alleged greater efficiency of specialized companies makes the idea of contracting such services attractive but the only real candidate represents the main threat to the Kingdom. That forces the surviving Laundry senior members to adopt emergency measures, even extreme ones.
“The Delirium Brief” incorporates many elements of previous Laundry novels, making it perhaps the one with the greatest internal connections with the consequences of past events. For this reason, it’s essential to have read the series and have at least a decent memory of the various plots and above all of the various threats faced by the Laundry agents. After two novels with other protagonists, Bob Howard is again the main narrator and at the center of the plot even though his wife Mo and the protagonists of “The Nightmare Stacks” Alex and Cassie are again important characters.
The approach to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the code name for the return of the Great Old Ones, has gradually given way to other crises, which have now culminated with a problem impossible to solve with the usual methods, because it’s a political attack. In the Laundry series, Charles Stross had occasionally also made political satire, in “The Delirium Brief” the political element and its satire became central. The novel was published after the British voted for Brexit, which is never mentioned but influenced the plot to the point that the author made significant changes after the referendum.
The portrait of the British political class made by Charles Stross is essentially of incompetent parasites. After the existence of the Laundry was revealed, politicians just try to cover their asses by announcing they’re shutting it down to privatize its activities. That decision is told in a brutal way as a consequence of corruption, described in particular in a vitriolic piece, and incompetence. Political satire also concerns the problem of the privatization of security-critical activities, which in this case politicians want to entrust to an external contractor which is an evil force.
The British situation is central but it’s also linked to American affairs. There are also problems with the American equivalent of the Laundry in a nation now in the Trump presidency. Again, there’s no explicit mention of current events, but the fact that basically in the USA there’s a triumph of evil forces and a subsequent plan to infiltrate them into British institutions to take control of the Kingdom’s government is a rather transparent metaphor.
Despite the themes, the Laundry series always had moments of humor as well, particularly in the novels narrated from Bob Howard’s point of view. “The Delirium Brief” has darker tones despite the satirical element, indeed somehow they derive from political satire. For Charles Stross people like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and their allies are worse than the Great Old Ones and preventing the world from ending up under their yoke requires extreme measures.
The result is a novel with more action than the average of the Laundry series and a more than ever open ending. In a series now in its eighth novel, Charles Stross succeeded in developing ideas based on historical events to find new ideas. In my opinion “The Delirium Brief” is a success because it freshens up the series a bit and I didn’t miss the geek moments I enjoyed in the first novels.