No Hero by Jonathan Wood
Arthur Wallace is a cop in Oxford, England, and despite a tendency to try to figure out what Kurt Russell would do in any particular situation, he’s a pretty good cop, all things considered. Good enough to figure out where a serial killer who’s cutting people’s heads in half (diagonally through the skull, separating top from bottom) will strike next, but not good enough to keep her from stabbing him through the chest. With a sword. She moves in humanly fast, but that isn’t what unnerves him the most: it’s that as she chops the head of her victim in half, something like a partly solid worm or centipede erupts from the victim’s brain.
Fortunately for Wallace, being stabbed through the chest doesn’t kill him, it just puts him in the hospital, whence he is recruited by MI37, the government agency concerned with occult warfare. Despite the best efforts of Felicity Shaw, its director, MI37 has gone through a number of budget cuts, and counting Wallace and Shaw herself now has 4 active personnel. One of them being the very woman who stabbed him in the chest.
It seems that the thing in the other guy’s head was a Progeny, what MI37 is fighting. The Progeny want to bring their parents, the Feeders, across space and time to consume the world. Only MI37 stands in their way.
I want to describe this as a lighter version of Lovecraft, or at least a lighter version of Stross’ Laundry novels, but now that I try to I’m hard-put to find anything light about it. As our heroes race to save the world, or at least put the apocalypse off for a bit, or at least save a couple of adolescent clairvoyants, their best weapon is a madwoman who cuts peoples’ heads in half on the suspicion that they might have a monster in them. It kind of makes me suspicious of Charlaine Harris’ quote on the back cover, describing the book as “So funny I laughed out loud”. Based on this I’d say that if you are standing next to Charlaine Harris at any point and she starts laughing you might want to step away; you may be about to be spattered with gore.
The magic system in the book is well thought-out, even brilliant, and the discussion of madness in the presence of Cthulhu Mythos-type creatures is pretty good, and if you’ve read much fantasy you’ve read much worse than this. But the corollary is that you’ve also read much better. Mildly not recommended.
The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn
Another British Secret agent, Will Swyfte, is the greatest agent in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I. But it isn’t only the Spanish he fights (though it is certain that he does fight the Spanish); his true enemy is the Unseely Court of the Fae.
Swyfte kind of reminds me of the James Bond of the books, in that he is more famous than a secret agent should be, and also that he can’t seem to go very long without being captured and tortured by his enemies. This includes a very explicit waterboarding and an equally explicit keel-hauling. In other words, it’s mostly unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other. Not recommended.