So it turns out that you can have a decent Laundry Files novel without Bob Howard as central figure; The Labyrinth Index follows Bob’s colleague Mhari Murphy who was turned into a vampire in a previous novel (one I haven’t read) thanks to a computer program/advanced math/parasite infection thing. It turns out that England is now under the control of new Prime Minister N’yar Lat-Hotep, although he doesn’t use that name with the general public. Mhari though being formerly of the Laundry which now goes by another name, not only knows who the Prime Minister is, but also works directly for him. He has a mission for her: take a random group of individuals, chosen by him, to the US to solve the mystery of why doesn’t the American public remember they have a President, where is said President, and what does the Laundry’s American counterpart the Nazgul have to do with whatever is going on? The Nazgul seem to have been taken over by parasites designed to bring about the return of Cthulu (the same infestation that nearly destroyed the Laundry a book or two ago- which I didn’t read much of and I don’t think it matters), so probably there is supernatural nastiness afoot.
There are a lot of suspense and spy story aspects to this one, lots of secret communications and chases, but everyone on the team has something interesting about them. Brains is Bob Howard’s former roommate- he might be the mad-scientist one, Jon/Yari is a female vampire elf on the Autism spectrum, “F*ckboy” (who might also go by ‘Jim’) is Mari’s ‘friend with benefits’ who can apparently do some supernatural stuff but I’m not sure exactly how or why that works, Derek has oracular D&D dice, Pete is an Anglican priest, and there’s one or two more on the team. The team is separated for most of the adventure, each trying to achieve their piece of things so they connect with the group at the end and hopefully all go home alive. This means the perspective jumps around quite a lot, and the change in voice sometimes is hard to figure out, as in who are we following now, but overall it works pretty well to keep the mystery going.
By the time Mhari finally gets to the Sleeper’s Mouthpiece (the human body hosting the main Cthulu parasite), she has started to figure out why her Prime Minister sent her on this seemingly impossible screwball mission. The thing with the President being forgotten is almost tangential, although that is sort of explained, and the President is able to stay out of enemy hands, mostly? This is also one of those stories where people die but maybe not permanently (ok some probably), some characters don’t seem to have much reason for being there (why is Janice along and who is she again?), and you know there’s got to be a twist of some sort, because the whole thing was instigated by the Creeping Chaos himself. Part of the twist involves the fact that the real Cthulu is in fact not a tentacular horror; horror, yes, but not of the squid variety; that part was apparently Lovecraft’s fear/distaste of seafood getting the better of him, and one or two other little surprises. There’s also a pronoun revelation involved here, but more than that’s probably spoilers. There’s also what’s probably one of the worst Starbuck’s dates ever for at least two reasons, and a poor radio DJ who gets drawn into this whole mess.
Overall, this is a decent spy adventure, interesting character and supernatural study, but the whole “this is my personal secret diary” thing that’s the entire premise doesn’t work all the time. Remember the switching of perspectives? Yeah, that doesn’t logically work for being someone else’s secret diary. But that’s mostly forgivable, since it at least gives Mharit some personality.