Sunday, February 28, 2016

What we're reading: More pulp fiction

I followed Duedsml's recommendation this past week, and read Severance Package, by Duane Swierczynski. It had a different feel from the other books I had read by him (Canary and Fun and Games). The book begins with a gathering of a group of employees, all reluctant to come into the city on their Saturday off, especially on a hot August day, but all obeying the boss's call for a special meeting for "key personnel."

The set-up for this meeting is detailed as you are briefly introduced to each of the employees by their first-person narration of their morning and their trip to work, and the set-up is brilliant. It immediately presents you with a lot of questions, and some background knowledge that you will need in order to explain what's happening once they all arrive in the conference room.

When everyone arrives, the boss explains to the employees that their company is a cover for a branch of the intelligence community, and the company is being shut down. The boss then reveals that the champagne on the table is spiked, and if they will just cooperate and drink it, they'll gently fall asleep--forever. If they refuse, they'll be shot.

Escape is not an option--the boss has shut down the elevators and rigged the fire towers with chemical bombs. This is when panic sets in, when a few employees show their true colors, and when everyone has to decide--are they that committed to their jobs? or are they going to try to get out?

The premise for the book was totally crazy and weird, and as I mentioned, the set-up of the characters is masterful. The opening chapter was fantastic. I especially loved some of the small character details. If you have seen the movie Pulp Fiction, you will know what I mean when I say that I found myself, during that film, laughing at all the violence and then being slightly horrified at myself for enjoying it so much; and it was the same when I began this book.

Where the author lost me is that I never really felt that I had received a definitive idea of what the organization did, who was finally in charge, who decided this drastic ending, why everybody had to go, and where the rogue elements came from--because everybody spouts a bunch of nonsense about classified this and that and then dies before they can reveal anything else! So I'd have to say that I think the book could have been better, if it had had a bit more rationale behind the action. But it was definitely an adrenaline-fueled noir nightmare, and hard to put down! (I'll probably try another of his Charlie Hardie books now.)

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