Book 37: "Kraken" by China Mieville
Bureaucracies turf-war. The FSRC were the only officers in the Met who were anything other than blitheringly inadequate to deal with the eldritch nonsense of knackery. They were the state’s witches and hammers of witches. But their remit was a historical quirk. There were no Wizardry Squads in the UK Police. No SO21 to police Crimes of Magic. The Flying Squad did not. There was only the FSRC, and technically they were not concerned with the powers of ley lines, charmed words, invoked entities, et cetera-they were a cult squad, specifically.
In practice of course it was staffed by and kept watch on all those with questionable talents. FSRC computers were loaded with occult hexware and abgrades (Geas 2.0, iScry). But the unit was obliged to maintain appearances by describing all its work in terms of the policing of religion. They had to take care, if they concluded that it was purely secular abcriminality behind the Architeuthis disappearance, to stress what links they could with London’s heresiarchs. Otherwise they would lose jurisdiction. Without cult-games at the heart of the squidnapping, it would be handed over to some brusque unsubtle unit-Serious Crime, Organised Crime. Antiquities.
It is only when the giant squid and its nine-metre tank go missing from the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum, that curator Billy Harrow learns of the existence of London's magical underworld from officers of the FSRC (the Met's Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit). But once he knows about it, he is thrown in at the deep end, and has to confront cultists and Londonmancers, cursed gang bosses and immortal assassins in his search to find the squid and prevent the coming apocalypse.
"Kraken" takes place in the present day, with Internet buzzwords like Meme and Google-fu thrown in to prove it, but it is set in a magical underworld that most of London's inhabitants never see. The police, at least, are well aware of it and the Met even has a special department to deal with magical matters, although most people are under the impression that it is a cult investigation unit.
Things I liked were the idea of the sea having an embassy in London, because such a low-lying city does need to keep in the sea's good books, and what Billy said about the squid to foil the baddie's plans was very clever. I also found the SV Brood chanting "Red thoughts, white teeth!" amusing, but then I am a huge Saki fan. On the other hand, the magical knacks seemed rather random and a little too convenient (invisible spirit pigs!), while the police's plan to fake two apocalypses on the same day didn't really make much sense and overall I don't think that "Kraken" hangs together as well as some other stories of magical London that I have read.
Book 38: "That Which Should Not Be" by Brett J. Talley
But I never forgot some truths. That what we see is not all there is, and that just beyond my vision float beings as unbelievably powerful as they are filled with a burning hatred of mankind. And sometimes, when the light is right - or should I say the darkness - if I turn quickly enough, I catch a glimpse of a thing that cannot be . . . that should not be . . . but that is, nevertheless
Carter Weston is a student of folklore at Miskatonic University, who has always considered myths to be symbolic rather than based on actual events, but he is forced to confront the truth of the legends about the Great Old Ones. when Professor Atley Thayerson sends him to a local town to retrieve an ancient book of magic, the "Incendium Maleficarium" or "Flame of the Witch". Having arrived in town he goes for dinner at a local inn and gets into conversation with four local men, all of whom have encountered the cult of the Great Old Ones in the past. Each of their stories is more Lovecraftian that the last, moving from the forests of North America to an ancient fortress in the mountains of Eastern Europe, the state insane asylum at Danvers, Massachusetts, and finally to a ship in the mid-Atlantic when Captain Gray tells Carter the story of how he came into possession of the fateful book. The stories have an authentically Lovecraftian feel to them, with some of the protagonists fainting and temporarily losing their wits, but Carter Weston is made of sterner stuff, as befits a character named after Lovecraft's most heroic protagonist, Randolph Carter.
While Captain Gray and his friends were telling their stories, I felt that this book seemed more like a collection of short stories with Carter Weston's search for the book a method of tying them together. But once the stories were told and the action re-started things fell into place, and by the end it did feel more like a novel, and an enjoyable novel at that.
Book 39: "Running Wild" by J. G. Ballard
The camera leaves the gatehouse and sets off along The Avenue, the tree-lined central drive of the estate. The handsome mansions sit above their ample front lawns, separated from each other by screens of ornamental shrubs and dry-stone walls. The light is flat but remarkably even, a consequence of the generous zoning densities (approx. two acres per house) and the absence of those cheap silver firs which cast their bleak shadows across the mock-Tudor facades of so many executive estates in the Thames Valley.
As well, though, there is an antiseptic quality about Pangbourne Village, as if these company directors, financiers and television tycoons have succeeded in ridding their private Parnassus of every strain of dirt and untidiness. Here, even the drifting leaves look as if they have too much freedom. Thirteen children once lived in these houses, but it is hard to visualize them at play.
The murders and kidnappings that take place an exclusive gated estate in the commuter belt of Southern England stun the whole country. When police psychiatrist Dr. Richard Greville starts investigating the mysterious murders and kidnappings at the Pangbourne Village estate, he realises that the policeman who shows him round the estate has a bizarre theory about what happened that morning, and slowly comes to agree with him. Neither of them, however, is keen to push this unpopular theory too strongly as the authorities appear willfully blind in their refusal to countenance it, ignoring even the strongest evidence pointing towards it such as the link between Mark Sanger's hobby of making box-kites and the strange contraption used to murder one of the security guards.
This unnerving novella is probably even more relevant now than when it was written, with helicopter parents filling every minute of their children's time with school-work and improving hobbies, too afraid to let them out of the house on their own.