The Jennifer Morgue is an entertaining if at times outlandishly convoluted pastiche of Ian Fleming and Lovecraftian horror.
Continuing the first book’s deliberate patterning after British spy thriller writers, The Jennifer Morgue is clearly written in the form of an Ian Fleming James Bond novel, with a few twists. I suspect that Stross knew what the limitations of the superspy thriller were – intelligence agencies don’t usually think of sharply-dressed, martini-swirling womanisers as ideal assets. And so, in order to work the Ian Fleming angle into the novel, he had to think of a way to integrate the tropes common to James Bond into the structure and plot of the novel without betraying the central conceit of the series – which is, of course, what a realistic, sober, bureaucracy-laden British covert agency would look like if given the powers and mandate to deal with real existential occult threats.
The result is the creation of a plot device that mandates that the characters have to act out the tropes of Fleming in order to take down the villain, which involves some sort of techno-occultic MacGuffin that distorts probability fields to ensure that the only response posture that stands a probabilistically significant chance of defeating the villain is – precisely – the worst possible response posture – the lone wolf, mass-murdering, waltzing-into-the-villain’s-lair model of covert ops.
Predictably, this gets Bob Howard and his assigned “bad Bond girl”, a soul-sucking, enigmatic representative of the US’ occult agency, the Black Chamber, into a series of Bond-esque moments, with Howard’s geeky nature juxtaposed against his supposed Bond-esque role for comic and ironic effect (even though we know better by the end).
It’s a clever if slightly outlandish plot device – one that allows you to deliberately attribute plot holes, deus ex machinas, and tropes to a reality-warping field that mandates precisely those conditions in an attempt to ape the narrative patterns of your standard Ian Fleming thriller.
To his great credit, Stross manages to just pull together the extremely complicated artifice together, with much duct tape and a generous helping of plot twist (which I won’t go into, but involves some plot lampshading – seriously, being at least a little au fait with tvtropes lingo is a useful aid for reading this novel).
Stross also introduces new Lovecraftian elements into his rapidly emerging world – the idea that we share the planet with vastly more advanced and alien species – the Deep Ones and the Chthonians, or, as code-named, BLUE HADES and DEEP SEVEN. I’m a sucker for these kinds of deep history elements in my occult fiction – pointing to our utter insignificance in an uncaring cosmos full of things that could snuff us out in a jiffy if only they had half a mind to. And the deep sea element goes well with the James Bond shtick – the franchise always seems to have something for the allure of the open ocean, whether beachfront or underwater lair.
In all, Jennifer Morgue is an self-consciously entertaining, if at times trope-gravid romp through occult Ian Fleming.
I give this book: 4 out of 5 DEEP SEVEN containment artifacts