Once I started to read this I just couldn't put it down.
Toby Greene has cocked up one too many times in the eyes of his section chief, a man with a surly disposition and a healthy dislike of our hero. Toby is therefore transferred to the department within the British Secret Service, dubbed the Circus, where all doomed agents are consigned to die - section 37. This is the department which deals with supernatural threats to Britain and which the Intelligence Service regards as so ridiculous that it’s ‘...where we keep the clowns’, hence the title of Guy Adams’ first book in his supernatural spy series, The Clown Service.
Olag Krishnin is an ex-KGB agent, and Cold War era warhorse, with a knack for passing between realities. He’s also found a way to animate the dead by crossing magic with technology and plans to raise an army of the dead to wreak havoc on the UK.
It falls to Section 37 and our heroes: Toby Greene, August Shining, the head of Section 37 and Toby’s new boss, Tamar, August’s ‘bodyguard’, and April Shining, August’s sister, to find out why the loony Russian is hell bent on unleashing a horde of zombies on Blighty and to stop his madness.
Along the way Toby will learn the supernatural ropes of Section 37 and meet some weird and wonderful characters. He will also make some powerful new friends, not least of which is August, a man with Gandalf-like knowledge of all things supernatural.
The verdict: The book is a fantastic read; the action moves at a good pace and the story is engaging as Adams flits between narrative styles. At times the action unfolds through Toby’s perspective, first person, and sometimes in the third person, and the story is also well seasoned with a goodly dose of humour, for example, when Toby’s section chief expresses his hatred of our hero: ‘You work in intelligence – a fact so weighted by irony that I would be tempted to laugh, were it not for the bubbling disgust I feel for you robbing me of my mirth.’
These words vividly conjure the image of a fat and balding, and well dressed, Whitehall civil servant. Adams does a wonderful job of creating a gallery of fascinating characters; August Shining is suave, debonair and charming and wise, Toby Greene is a bit gormless but a good lad and so utterly endearing, and Tamar is just sultry and alluring. April Shining is wonderfully introduced to us as, ‘…a hostile weather front in a cardigan and beads.’
Our villains, Russian or otherwise, are not caricatures but are believable and, in some cases, quite likable.
The Clown Service is a delicious cocktail of all your favourite British spy icons - a dash of Bond, a sprinkling of the Avengers, with a twist of the supernatural for added flavour. So if you fancy a read that combines the best of British spy thrillers with humour and the supernatural, then you may find The Clown Service is your cup of tea!
Abbas Daya, 9/10
The Clown Service, a joke name for the never-mentioned Section 37 taken from the slang term of the ‘Circus’ for British spy intelligence services, is made up of one man in a smart suit, August Shining, who deals with the more supernatural side of crime. Toby Greene, a disgraced operative with post traumatic stress disorder, has been shunted sideways into the X-Files style basement division, in this case located in a flat in Wood Green in north London, and is introduced to a world of astral projection, geriatric KGB agents, time travel and the apocalypse.
Guy Adams has built a world which melds together John le Carre’s Cold War spy thrillers with Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next-style alternative London and a bit of Tom Holt’s sense of humour to create a really enjoyable start to what I presume will be a series focusing on The Clown Service’s supernatural investigations in a happily oblivious London.
August Shining is a relic of the 60s, stubbornly clinging on despite various deputies occasionally turning up before running away screaming after three days, and working on those cases which the top brass would prefer to ignore, in a very Fox Mulder-ish manner. Toby Greene has been ground down throughout his life, by his father and then by his job and superiors, and has finally been dropped into the supposed dead end of Section 37. However, this crash course into the world of the other side of London hiding all around us is exactly what he needs, and we are taken with him on a journey which will take him beyond our London to one that is patrolled by things which can destroy your soul, on a quest to prevent a diabolical plan, fifty years in the making, from being fulfilled.
Once I started to read this I just couldn’t put it down and read it straight through to the end. August and Toby are well fleshed-out and a good match for one another, and the supporting cast, which includes August’s delightful battle-axe sister called April (apparently their parents had better things to be doing than thinking up names), keep the action flowing. I always find London a great setting for books, and this is no exception with its crumbling warehouses, seething crowds and a very British way of doing things. I would highly recommend this book and look forward to the next.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 9/10
9/10 from 1 reviews
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