Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

Welcome to Duane’s World:

“People in the world were divided into a few simple categories. The large majority were drones, buzzing about their daily lives, completely unaware how their contributions fit into the larger hive. They could be frightened into collective action quite easily–a terrorist threat or environmental disaster or flu epidemic. Some of these were even real. But most were engineered by the queens, or put into action by the workers.”

As a fan of Duane Swierczynski, I’d intended to review one of his books for this blog all year. Earlier, I read and reviewed Fun and Games as well as Hell and Gone–the first two novels in a trilogy featuring housesitter Charlie Hardie. I’m waiting for the third installment, Point and Shoot which is due out in March.

Duane maintains a fan-friendly blog which can be found here. Apart from the fact that I like his books (enough to buy ’em and read ’em), I also like the way he’s accessible to his readers. Duane has a strong background in comics, and that talent is glaringly apparent in Severance Package–a fast-paced crime novel (with occasional illustrations from Dennis Calero) that explodes with the sort of action that led me to finish the book in one reading.

It’s no coincidence that Bruce Willis is mentioned on page 1. After all, you can’t think of a highrise in a lock down situation without Bruce simultaneously entering the scenario ready to save innocent bystanders from sudden violent death. Bruce Willis appears to be the average joe–not overtly muscle-bound, thinning on top, so he’s not the male model type, but rather the middle-aged man most middle-aged men can identify with. Jamie Debroux, the protagonist of Severance Package is another average sort of man who finds himself trying to survive in extraordinary circumstance. Bruce Willis is way ahead of Jamie when it comes to skills such as hand-to-hand combat with various loony types, but then again family man Jamie has just returned to work after having a month off for paternity leave.

The novel opens on a quiet sleepy Saturday morning in Philadelphia. Seven employees of Murphy, Knox & Associates: Jamie, Nichole, Molly, Amy, Ethan, Stuart & Roxanne are called in to attend a special “manager’s meeting” conducted by their rather difficult boss, David Murphy. Each of the seven employees are introduced in various hungover or sleep deprived conditions as they make their way, grumbling discontent, to a meeting they’d rather not attend. While all the employees would rather be anywhere other than the office on a Saturday, they all sense that there’s something different afoot that necessitates this special meeting. Unfortunately, most of the employees have no idea what the meeting is about. After David gives the go-ahead to start eating on cookies provided especially for the meeting, he makes a sinister announcement:

As of right now,” David said, “we’re on official lockdown.”

“What?”

“Oh, man.”

“I came in for this?”

“What’s going on, David?”

“Damn it.”

Jamie looked around the room. Lockdown? What the hell was “lockdown”?

“Beyond that,” David continued, “I’ve taken some additional measures. The elevators have been given a bypass code and will skip this floor for the next eight hours. No exceptions. Calling down to the front desk won’t help either.”

Jamie didn’t like the part about the front desk. He was fixated on the “next eight hours” bit. Eight hours? Trapped in here with the clique? He thought he’d be out of here by noon. Andrea was going to kill him.

“The phones,” David said, “have been disconnected-and not just in the computer room you can’t plug anything back in, and have the phones back up or anything. The lines for this floor have been severed in the subbasement, right where it connects to the Verizon router. Which you can’t get to, because of the elevators.”

Stuart laughed. “So much for a smoke break.”

“No offense, David,” said Nichole, “but if I need a smoke, I’m marching down thirty-six flights of fire stairs, lockdown or no lockdown.”
“No you aren’t.”

Nichole raised an eyebrow. “You going to come between a woman and her Marlboros?”

David tented his fingers under his bony chin. He was smiling. “The fire towers won’t be any good to you.”

“Why?” Jamie heard himself ask. Not that he smoked.

“Because the doors have been rigged with sarin bombs.”

David isn’t joking. Murphy, Knox & Associates is some sort of front for a secret anti-terrorist organisation, or at least that’s one version of the ‘secret cover’ operation, and now the job is over, it’s time to fire the employees. But instead of unemployment cheques, it’s termination in the worst sense. David’s employees are given the choice of a bullet to the head or poisoned mimosas. But nothing is as it appears, and everyone seems to have some different identity. Suddenly office drones turn into Black-ops assassins, and with almost everyone pulling out weapons (or improvising with what’s at hand), soon it’s not clear just who the good guys and the bad guys are, or if there are any good guys on the 36th floor.

Jamie’s job…mission impossible here…is to stay alive for 8 hours:

But Jamie wasn’t a cop or a soldier. He was a public relations guy who thought he was working for a financial services company, and did so because of decent pay and medical benefits. He didn’t sign on for anything else.

Severance Package is violent, so don’t expect anything less than the sick-escapist fun of office politics taken to the ultimate level. Duane Swierczysnki sets up the tight Hollywoodesque scenario of eight people locked in an area trying to avoid death–even though that plan doesn’t exactly always work out. The story doesn’t tip toe around brutality and as the action is written tinged with an edge of the surreal, the novel shows its pulp origins on almost every page with the result that the plot moves subtly but strongly into pulp fiction territory. I recently recommended this author to anyone stuck in a noisy environment where reading is constantly interrupted by outside forces. While reading Severance Package, everything else was just background noise.

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5 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Swierczynski Duane

5 responses to “Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski

  1. I got Fun and Games after your review, I’ll start by this one.

    Since I really really dislike films with Bruce Willis and his colleagues stuck in submarines, buses, trains, spaceships or facing volcanos, fires, floads, viruses, I’m going to pass on this one. But I understand it can be an entertaining read.

  2. This sounds wild. A bit like Bruce Willis meets Kill Bill.

  3. Caroline & Emma: Jamie is no Bruce Willis, so in a way Severance Package is a parody of those sort of die-hard thrillers. And it’s torture waiting for the third part of the Charlie Hardie trilogy.

  4. Sounds rather good – I must get round to reading some of the noir novels you review. I’ve just bought Best American Mystery Stories 2011 and am looking forward to some nice escapist reading over the holiday.

  5. Pingback: Quais du polar: Lyon celebrates crime fiction | Book Around The Corner

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