After one screw up too many, he finds himself at a largely forgotten branch of the British Intelligence Service, working for August Shining, a Cold War relic, and charged with defending the country from paranormal terrorism.
But when an ex-Soviet-era enemy returns with an insidious plan to raise the dead and destroy London, it seems Toby’s impossible job is to save Great Britain – whether he believes it or not.
When The Clown Service arrived the cover grabbed me as it was seemingly so at odds with the title. It evokes a classic cold war spy thriller, but in a colourful way. It is also set in a supernatural London; that fact alone would have sold me. But it was not just the supernatural London setting that made this book so much fun, it was its tone and sense of humour as well. In addition, The Clown Service’s plot was extremely entertaining and very well put together. I was really pleased with the book and while the story was impeccably paced, I would have loved for it to have been a bit longer, so I could have spent just a bit more time with the characters.
The Clown Service centres on Toby Greene. He’s a British Intelligence agent, who has been just reassigned to what seems to be a career-killing department. And Toby is seemingly somewhat of a failure, as his boss is keen to remind him. His last mistake – letting an asset he was babysitting get away – gets him shunted off to Section 37. But it’s not just at work where Toby is treated like he’s less than capable, his father treats him the same way. Toby is someone with a past, having been deployed to a hot zone in the Middle East and having come back with a case of PTSD, a diagnosis he roundly denies as he doesn’t want to be judged unfit for duty. I loved how Adams incorporated this into Toby’s character and his reactions to events when the Fear – as Toby calls it – overtakes him. In contrast, he accepts all the weirdness Shining reveals to him as part of the reality of working at Section 37 almost too calmly.
Toby’s relationship with Shining was somewhat reminiscent of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant from The Folly series and his bond with his superior Inspector Nightingale. Like Peter Toby is taken under his wing by an eccentric older mentor. August Shining is fabulous and I loved that he believed in Toby’s capability and wanted to train him. In fact, Shining is the rare type of mentor who seems to want to give his protégée all the facts, not keeping secrets. Something which only makes the fact that circumstances make it impossible for Shining to actually give Toby all the details all the more frustrating, both for Toby and the reader.
The narrative is nicely structured, told in two timelines, one in the present and one set in the early Sixties, when Shining first encounters Krishnin, the villain of the book. Much of the story set in the past is conveyed through Shining or others sharing their stories with Toby, which is an enjoyable way to frame a secondary narrative. With Toby being introduced to Section 37 and learning more about the supernatural reality of his world, Adams is also able to insert some interesting story beats and Chekov’s guns that he then has paying off at exactly the right moment. The Clown Service was faultlessly paced, both in terms of its action and its humour.
Of course, Toby and Shining can’t defeat the evil Krishnin alone, they do have back up. I loved all the sidekicks and their various abilities, some of which were truly supernatural, while others where more of the ‘technology so far advanced it seems like magic’-variety. My absolute favourite secondary characters, however, were Shining’s neighbour Tamar and his sister April (their parents didn’t have much imagination when it came to names) who were fantastic. Especially April was a strong-as-nails, eccentric old biddy, who appeared to my mind’s eye as a sort of mixture between Professor McGonagall and Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet). The ending was great, because it’s an ending that is not undividedly happy. Toby, August and April come out of it indisputably changed and Adams’ is a world where actions definitely have consequences.
I had a fabulous time with The Clown Service and I’m excited to have the second book in the series, The Rain-Soaked Bride, already on the TBR-pile and I can’t wait to start it. Once I pry it out of the husband’s hands when he has finished it that is, because he is currently devouring it. For fans of Aaronovitch’s The Folly series and Stross’ Laundry Files this will be a great series to dive into and I highly recommend it.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.