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Severance Packageby Duane Swierczynski
Synopses & Reviews
Jamie DeBroux's boss has called a special meeting for all "key personnel" at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday in August.
When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and champagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, "We're a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. And we're being shut down." Jamie's boss then tells everyone to drink some champagne, and in a few seconds they'll fall asleep — for good. If they refuse, they'll be shot in the head.
Escape is not an option. Jamie's boss has shut down the elevators and rigged the fire towers with chemical bombs. Panic sets in, chaos erupts, and no one is sure whom to trust. Jamie quickly realizes that there's only one way he's ever going to see his family again: the hard way.
"At the start of this violent and intense noir and espionage hybrid from Swierczynski (The Blonde), David Murphy, the CEO of a Philadelphia financial company, summons his seven staffers for an important Saturday meeting, where he informs them that the business is being shut down, and that unfortunately he has to kill them all. Every escape route from the 36th-floor office has been sealed off or rigged with lethal sarin gas. Suddenly, mousy Molly Lewis pulls out a gun and puts a slug in Murphy's head. The resulting chaos sets off a panicked scramble, as the reader gradually learns that the business is a front for a covert intelligence group called CI-6. Thousands of miles away in Scotland, two men monitor 'Molly Lewis,' who's actually a highly trained Polish operative named Ania Kuczun, as she performs her own private audition, which involves the systematic elimination of her co-workers using a truly imaginative array of methods. This action fest moves swiftly to its darkly satisfying conclusion." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Molly wakes early on a Saturday morning and steps into the shower. Her husband, Paul, stumbles downstairs, opens the fridge and spots a Tupperware bowl with a note attached: "FOR LUNCH ONLY!!! LOVE, MOLLY." He is thrilled to find that the bowl contains his favorite potato salad, and he decides that one bite for breakfast can do no harm. Within seconds, Paul is helpless on the kitchen floor, unable... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) to breathe or speak. He seizes a teakettle and bangs on the stove, hoping to summon his beloved wife. She ambles in, sees his "writhing, dying body," says, "Well, this is ahead of schedule" and hurries off to work. Mousy, skinny Molly works for Murphy, Knox and Associates, a financial services firm located on the 36th floor of a Philadelphia office building. No one on the staff knows why their boss, David Murphy, has called this 9 a.m. Saturday meeting. In addition to David and Molly, six other employees attend, three men and three women. David has cookies, orange juice and champagne awaiting them on the conference table. He spoils the party, however, by brandishing a gun. "I apologize for the shock you're about to receive," he says, and explains that their firm is in fact a front for a government intelligence agency and "We are being shut down." Seriously shut down. David says their offices are in lockdown: doors sealed, phones cut off, no escape. Each person must drink a poisoned mimosa, whereupon he or she will die a quick, painless death. David will be obliged to shoot anyone who refuses. Molly, a woman of many secrets, has a surprise of her own. She pulls out a Beretta .22 Neo and shoots David in the head. She is not, however, the savior of her colleagues, far from it. She has learned of David's murderous intent and made a deal with his superiors: She will kill him and all the others in exchange for a promotion. The bosses can watch on closed-circuit TV as she demonstrates that she is in fact a world-class killing machine. Most of the book is devoted to the ensuing carnival of gore — Molly hangs a woman she dislikes out the 36th-floor window, she carves one fellow to ribbons — and to her co-workers' desperate attempts to stop her. Along the way, we see a woman "torturing her boss by shooting his fingers off, one at a time." A man giving himself a tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen. A dying man who begs for one final Big Mac. I followed this surreal massacre in open-mouthed astonishment. At first the violence was shocking, but finally it became grimly hilarious. One of Molly's intended victims turns up with a gun of her own, so naturally Molly must use a razor-sharp blade to slice off her hands. As I read this, something clicked in my mind: I had been reminded of poor Lavinia, in Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus," who also has her hands chopped off. Did Duane Swierczynski, who is a former editor of the Philadelphia City Paper, have Lavinia in mind when he wrote this horrific scene? My guess is he did. And that brings up another question: Just what is Swierczynski up to with this cornucopia of blood and betrayal? At the very least, he's written one of the most outrageously original spy thrillers I can remember. David Murphy's office is a rogue spinoff from the CIA. Superficially, the story recalls James Grady's Watergate-era novel "Six Days of the Condor," in which (in the movie version) high-minded Robert Redford is caught between rival factions of the CIA and finally gives the story to the New York Times for salvation. No one in "Severance Package," aside from a hapless victim or two, is remotely high-minded, and the idea that the Times could fix things is laughable. Molly would invade the newsroom and slaughter them all. This dark satire more nearly resembles Robert Littell's sardonic portraits of the CIA in "The Defection of A.J. Lewinter" and "The Sisters." Swierczynski's first novel, "The Wheelman," was an expert but conventional look at a bank robbery and its aftermath. There's nothing conventional about this novel, his third, and it places the author up there with Charlie Huston among the most interesting of the younger crime writers. The satire in "Severance Package" is as brutal as its action is bloody. But who or what, exactly, is Swierczynski satirizing as Molly, urged on by her shadowy superiors, slices and dices everyone in sight? Corporate morality? (The author scatters inspiration quotations from the likes of Donald Trump and Sam Walton throughout the novel.) The so-called intelligence community, which is presented as both insane and out of control? Or is Swierczynski thinking in even grander terms? Is he reminding us that there are individuals at the pinnacle of our government so steeped in blood that they make David with his poisoned mimosas and Molly with her Beretta look like children at play? It seems a reasonable interpretation. Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[T]here are both enough cliché killers and comedy to make us raise two thumbs up. If you want your thrillers to be, well, thrilling, pop a big bowl of corn — you won't leave your seat until the end." Booklist
"[O]ne of the most outrageously original spy thrillers I can remember....There's nothing conventional about this novel...and it places the author up there with Charlie Huston among the most interesting of the younger crime writers." Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post Book World
"[C]haracterization isn't the point of this turbocharged entertainment. Action is — via macabre bursts of violence dished out with extreme cruelty and astonishing cleverness." Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
"The best word to describe Swierczynski's latest thriller is frenetic, and even that is likely an understatement....
In this new thriller from the acclaimed author of The Blonde, Jamie DeBroux's boss has called a special meeting to reveal to the employees that their company has been a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. Now it is being shut down, and all of the employees must die.
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Jamie DeBrouxs boss has called a special meeting for all “key personnel” at 9:00 a.m. on a hot Saturday in August.
When Jamie arrives, the conference room is stocked with cookies and champagne. His boss smiles and tells his employees, “Were a cover for a branch of the intelligence community. And were being shut down.” Jamies boss then tells everyone to drink some champagne, and in a few seconds theyll fall asleep---for good. If they refuse, theyll be shot in the head.
Escape is not an option. Jamies boss has shut down the elevators and rigged the fire towers with chemical bombs. Panic sets in, chaos erupts, and no one is sure whom to trust. Jamie quickly realizes that theres only one way hes ever going to see his family again: the hard way.
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About the Author
Duane Swierczynski is the author of The Blonde and the writer for the monthly Marvel Comics series Cable. Until recently he was the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper, and almost never wanted to kill his employees. Visit him at www.duaneswierczynski.com.
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