Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best crime fiction of 2010: Part II

The editors of January Magazine came up with a list (in two parts) of the best crime fiction of 2010. One title to make the grade:
Intelligence by Susan Hasler (Thomas Dunne/Minotaur) 320 pages

The brilliant thing about former Central Intelligence Agency analyst Susan Hasler’s debut novel about CIA analysts is that if you let yourself forget what the CIA does, it feels like an episode of The Office or Mike Judge’s brilliant office life satire, Office Space. Truly, the similarities are staggering. The hours suck, the pay isn’t as good as it should be, you have to deal with people you don’t like, and your managers and superiors demand impossible things or just want busy work that will make them look good. Splitting her narrative into several parts (one of which -- delivered by a dead CIA director -- is a bit too cute), Hasler introduces us to a small team of analysts as they try to stop a suspected major threat involving a terrorist cell known as the Perfumers. Hasler’s characters toss off cryptic phrases and jargon (fortunately, there’s a glossary in the back of the book), but there’s an astonishing absence of bullshit in these pages. The author presents her players authentically. You won’t find any conservative wet-dream characters like Jack Bauer or Mitch Rapp here, just normal folk engaged in very important jobs. They have real problems too, and genuine neuroses. They share familiar concerns, such as political in-fighting and their social lives. And they’re just as prone as the rest of us to fall apart and despair when horrible things happen. But that’s precisely when CIA personnel must push past their woes in order to make the machinery of national intelligence function. Although this is a piece of fiction, the author offers insight into why invading Iraq was such a disastrous idea and why torturing prisoners doesn’t work (terrorists lie, or they don’t tell the whole truth, no matter what punishment they receive). Often laugh-out-loud funny, Intelligence even manages to squeeze in a genuinely sweet romance. Susan Hasler does for the folks at the CIA what Joseph Wambaugh accomplishes with cops: she gives them human dimension. Sometimes sad, sometimes stupid, sometimes scary and at other times heroic, Hasler’s characters always seem achingly real. -- Cameron Hughes
Read about another book on the list.

Writers Read: Susan Hasler.

The Page 69 Test: Intelligence.

--Marshal Zeringue