I took a number of SF books to the cabin this summer including the Berkley Medallion edition of A Plague of Demons with the Powers cover. While visiting my wife's family farm, which is down the road, I pillaged the library for SF titles and found the Warner Books edition with the cool skull cover by David Meltzer, these were my wife's books originally so they were not missed, how could I resist? The back covers, below, combine to give away the entire plot fairly effectively, so be warned!
A Plague of Demons is a very enjoyable read, it is not deathless prose and it is festooned with so many of the standard tropes from the spy and sf genres that it is hard to count them. I had to add a number of labels to cover all the subjects. What I think makes this work for me is the almost breathless pace at which everything unfolds. Laumer gives you your money's worth in 159 pages.
John Bravais, the protagonist, is a likeable character, reminiscent of the wise cracking but extremely dedicated agent/spy/detective from any number of novels. There are plot twists, hair raising escapes, nifty toys, and really scary demon dogs. Also, while it is not apparent to start, Laumer is moving his character in a very different story arc from the standard genre novel. There will be no blondes with a heart of gold for John Bravais. I have already added Laumer's A Trace of Memory to my to be read pile.
Plague of Demons starts with fairly standard espionage plot with John Bravais tasked by his handler Felix Severance with investigating the disappearance of soldiers from the battlefield. Warfare is conducted in fairly scripted battles which are monitored to enforce preset guidelines. Felix's group has determined that more soldiers are missing than
can be accounted for in normal circumstances. The novel follows a fairly standard pattern, Bravais is followed, warned off by the authorities, given brand new top secret gadgets to test etc. What happens next is what takes it into the SF realm.
Bravais discovers that the brains of some death soldiers are being extracted by large dog "demons" with human hands. When he takes this information to the local general he finds the general is a super strong creature in league with the demons. Not to worry, John returns to Felix who admits he is member of a super secret organization overseeing the welfare of mankind and luckily he is also able to turn John into a a super soldier. What follows is a frantic chase with John menaced by increasing numbers of demon dogs who can move unrecognized by mankind. Felix is killed, John injured, stows away on a ship, is healed in a secret automated base, and eventually is killed along with a sailor he befriended on the ship. Wow what a strange ending, except this is page 109, I did mention there are 159 pages, so now we find out what the demon dogs do with the brains.
If you have read Fritz Leiber's Big Time, feel the thrill of recognition and enjoy or if not prepare to be surprised.