The Clown Service by Guy Adams
Adams wrote the interesting but flawed Heaven’s Gate trilogy (still not that Heaven’s Gate). This is a whole different work set in a different world, and set, as sadly too few series have turned out to be, in the cusp between Urban Fantasy and Spy Thriller. Most of those that are, are set in Britain, and this is no exception.
Toby Greene works for British Intelligence, and unfortunately he’s an incompetent. Not a humourous incompetent, but the kind who makes headaches for his section chief, as well as getting himself injured in the Middle East. He is reassigned to Section 37, his chief noting, “If the security service is the Circus, then Section 37 is where we keep the clowns.” 37, under the leadership of one August Shining, protects Britain from “preternatural terrorism”–that is, from supernatural threats. It doesn’t help that the section, now that Toby has joined, has two full-time employees, the rest being contractors that Shining hires and pays in various ways–including an Armenian refugee girl who lives upstairs from Shining’s flat (home to the Section) and provides some security for the older man.
Working Intelligence can be boring, and Section 37 has more potential for boredom than most, but fortunately(?) for Toby, an old foe is about to reactivate: a Russian agent long thought dead but actually surprisingly hard to kill, is about to bring terror to London as the dead rise. Not all the dead, of course, only those who were prepared when the Russian was last in London in the 60s, but those who rise are terribly hard to put down again. Only Section 37 can save the day . . . but at what cost?
As the book starts, this seems likely to be comedic, even though darkly comic (Toby’s section chief muses that he might make Toby no longer his problem by beating him to death) but it quickly becomes more serious, though I would never call it grim or horrific. Adams writes a solid spy adventure, more in line with the bureaucratic mode than the action/superspy mode, and goes in some unexpected directions. All things considered, I’d say this one is recommended, though with one caveat: while the story ends solidly, a major character’s fate is left unexplained and that potential sequel hook could also be seen as a cliffhanger, which I know bothers some people.
Pacific: silicon chips and surfboards, coral reefs and atom bombs, brutal dictators and fading empires by Simon Winchester
Having covered the Atlantic, Winchester turns his attention to the Pacific, though in this case specifically the modern Pacific, starting in 1950 and moving forward (though not without the action look to the past). The first chapter is American Nuclear testing; the second is the making of the first Japanese transistor radios, and what they came to mean for Japan, chapter three is about the rise of surfing, and so on.
Winchester does his usual excellent, entertaining job and I recommend this one highly.