Review of Chris Angus’ London Underground…

(Chris Angus, London Underground, Iguana Books, ISBN 978-1927403020)

As the Brits would say, this book is smashing fun and fiendishly clever.  How to categorize it?  It’s a sci-fi horror tale, a strange double romance, and a war story.  It’s an overseas adventure, at least for U.S. and Canadian readers—readers in Great Britain will have fun recognizing places in new and old London and possibly remembering the horrors of the V-2 bombings; readers in Norway will be pleased to see their country featured even if the narrative reminds them of the dark days under the traitor Quisling.

As the title indicates, the main theme is what lies under modern day London—treasure and disease, both attributable to that inimitable philanderer, Henry VIII.  The story begins with the king and Ann Boleyn in the countryside after fleeing the Sweat, a fast-moving and frightening sickness that has appeared from time to time during the reign of the Henrys.  As life insurance for his beloved Ann, Henry hides the loot taken from a Spanish galleon underneath London in a way that wouldn’t find favor with current British unions.

Moving forward a few hundred years, Churchill sends the Norwegian freedom fighter Gunnar, a scrappy English nurse Natasha, and a small group of English special forces to Norway to find out what biological horrors Hitler’s scientists are brewing for the war-weary Brits.  About half of the remaining book bounces between WWII Norway and modern-day London.  The ride becomes a bit jerky at times.

Carmen, in charge of London projects for the British Museum, and Scotland Yard Inspector Sherwood, are the main protagonists.  They trace out many secrets in the maze beneath the city involving Henry’s treasure and British bioweapons research that has led to not only the preservation of the Sweat but a species of genetically altered super-rats designed to transmit it and now running amok.

Instead of a flashback to Henry and his mistress, Carmen and friends should make the connection to the Sweat as part of the plot.  I was also left stranded with an adrenalin high when the Norway story abruptly ends.  Although the author returns to it at the very end, I found the denouement akin to a high school reunion where the lives you imagined people have suddenly become disappointingly mundane.  I would have also liked to see Assistant PM developed more—she’s an interesting lady, much more so than Natasha.

The plotting choices made above don’t distract much from the fun of reading this book, though.  They didn’t stop me from mulling over the dark moments either.  The moral irony of the Brits turning Hitler’s biological warfare attack into a weapon of their own is like a moral slap in the face because of the nearly disastrous consequences.  How greed for Henry’s treasure causes so much pain and suffering is another morality lesson.  Churchill was wrong—good doesn’t always completely triumph over evil.  We can never let our guard down.

[Note from Steve: Iguana Books informs me that this eBook will be on sale for $3.99 from February 5 to March 5 in all online bookstores, including the publisher's online store.]

In libris libertas….

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