Bob Howard is a desk jockey keen to move into field work. He works for Britain's ultra-secret intelligence agency known as the Laundry, and the fact that the Laundry's brief is paranormal phenomena, albeit interpreted through science and cutting edge information theory, in no way diminishes the amount of petty bureaucracy Bob has to wade through.
When what should be a standard a training course goes horribly awry, Bob keeps his head and his calm, and his first mission follows soon after - a break in at an industrial building where a young mathematician's discovery risks him summoning demons from an alternate universe, just the sort of thing the Laundry is designed to prevent.
Something of a success, Bob is sent to the US, to pry a beautiful redhead away, but when Islamic terrorists interfere the mission becomes a bloody disaster. In between a psychotic on-again, off-again girlfriend, two truly odd roommates, and a slew of office polices akin to a collection of Dilbert strips, Bob finds himself getting deeper and deeper into parallel universes, Third Reich escapees plotting a come back, demons and shades of Lovecraft.
Ostensibly a horror novel, and certainly chilling, the tone of The Atrocity Archives (a serialised novella and a short story about gorgon-esque monsters who turn a bunch of cows in the heart of Milton Keyes into concrete) is light and sarky. The details of office hoops and paperwork ring true for anyone who's ever worked within a government system, and the world Stross creates is both compelling and true, while still being fantastic and strange.
The final component of the book is an essay by Stross comparing the genres of horror and thriller, with some unlikely but interesting comparisons and areas of overlap. All in all this is an original voice with a unique perspective. Though superficially light, some of the ideas he introduces are profound, and I suspect I whisked through The Atrocity Archives a little too quickly to glean everything from it that I could have. I look forward to trying another of his works when I have the time and mentally energy to make the most of it. - Alex