Tag Archives: Black ops

The Vixen: Francine Prose

“Beneath my youthful diffidence and insecurity lurked the egomania of a Roman emperor.”

Set in the McCarthy era, Francine Prose’s novel The Vixen follows the bumpy career of a young, naïve idealistic editor, Simon Putnam. It’s 1953, Simon is freshly armed with a brand new shiny Harvard degree in Folklore and Mythology, but his career prospects don’t look great. He’s living back at home, watching the news on the execution of the Rosenbergs, with his sporting goods sales goods father and his migraine-stricken former high school teacher mother, so he’s grateful, well sort of, when his uncle Madison, literary critic and “public intellectual” pulls strings to get him a job with the New York publishing house, Landry, Landry and Bartlett. Simon’s hired to replace a pregnant, unmarried young woman who’s being eased out, so right away the vibes aren’t great. He’s buried with manuscripts–mostly awful ones but since he takes his job seriously he reads ever single one carefully before rejection.

I began each manuscript in a state of hope that curdled into disappointment, then boredom, annoyance, anger, then remorse for the anger that the writer didn’t deserve.

For someone whose psyche lives inside Njal’s Saga, this is all very dull work. Imagine, then, when the manuscript: The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic is tossed onto his desk and he’s told by his boss, the intimidating Warren Landry, to manage the author and bring the book to publication. Simon’s boss drops a bombshell: they need a blockbuster, The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic is that blockbuster, a tacky bodice ripper very obviously based on Ethel Rosenberg (Esther Rosenstein in the book) who was executed just the year before. Without the book’s success the firm will fail. So no pressure. …

The novel is awful, sleazy and plain laughable–except for the fact that it is based on a real (dead) person. To add more problems, Simon’s mother knew Ethel Rosenberg, and Simon knows that his mother would be horrified by the novel. So here’s the moral dilemma: should Simon tell his boss to use the manuscript for toilet paper or should Simon bury any moral scruples and try to tidy up the novel for publication? Decisions, decisions, and then he meets the book’s sexy author Miss Anya Partridge.

What would you call her look? Hong Kong brothel meets Berlin cabaret? Lotte Lenya? Pinch of Marlene Dietrich? Soupçon of Rita Hayworth? Let’s find a more literary model …Let’s say … Colette, only juicier. To coin a phrase … a bad-girl hothouse tomato!”

And to complicate matters even further, the very sexy Anya is an inmate at a mental institution, and it’s the very same mental institution that also houses the other publishing partner: wheelchair bound, Bartlett who occasionally escapes from the asylum and creates disruptive scenes at the publishing house. Simon is already busily having erotic dreams about Anya before he meets her, and he justifies working on the novel to tone it down. Simon cannot walk away from the job because of his sexual attraction to Anya.

In some ways this novel is a romp. We know (and in his heart Simon knows too) that there is something really fishy going on. Why is he, the low man on the totem pole, given this novel to bring to publication? If the novel is so important that the firm’s financial health rests upon its publication, shouldn’t the novel be given to someone more senior? Then what of the novel itself, The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic? Ethel Rosenberg/Esther Rosenstein is portrayed as a “notoriously buxom and beautiful Mati Hari,” sexually rapacious and insatiable as she seduces man after man. It’s actually a dirty book, so badly written it feels like some sort of parody. And why is the bizarre, sexually adventurous Anya so disinterested in what Simon does to her book? Curiouser and curiouser. By the time the novel concludes, the plot feels so fantastic that it’s comic and yet … it’s sadly a reflection of the times and all too real. Skullduggery, propaganda, Red Scare, manipulation, Black Ops…. what a world. …

Review copy

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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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Stefano Delle Chiaie:Portrait of a Black Terrorist by Stuart Christie

“Fascists are the subordinate element of more cohesive and powerful forces.”

After watching the Italian film about the kidnapping of Italian politician Aldo Moro–Good Morning, Night–some bizarre features about the case led me to this book: Stefano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a Black Terrorist by Stuart Christie. While the name of terrorist Carlos the Jackal was practically a household word for several decades, somehow or another the name Stefano Delle Chiaie seems to have stayed under the radar. When one considers all that is known–as well as all that is speculated about the terrorist career of Delle Chiaie, it’s both remarkable and bizarre that he’s managed to stay so anonymous. Author Stuart Christie’s book is a focused, relevant, well-documented and intense study of Delle Chiaie’s terrorist, neo-fascist career.

Stefano Delle Chiaie also known as “Il Caccola” (Shorty) was born in 1936 into a “staunchly pro-fascist” household. By the time he was 20, he was the secretary of the local neo-fascist party, MSI, but soon moved on to the more radical Ordine Nuovo–a group that shared the same motto with the Nazi SS: “Our Honour is our loyalty.” Delle Chiaie then in 1960 founded his own neo-fascist organization “Avanguardia Nazionale”–the “cudgel of black extremism” notorious for “stringent internal discipline.”

Working with fascist elements within the police force, the government, and Italian military intelligence (SIFAR), Delle Chiaie and the Avanguardia Nazionale built a “national and international clandestine neo-fascist infrastructure” which operated for over twenty years. One of the organisation’s aims was to establish a “Strategy of Tension” in Italy which would create such a degree of “social disruption” that the Italian people would be swayed into approving the “installation of a strong-arm government pledged to restore ‘order’.” Delle Chiaie’s operatives achieved their goal of creating a “climate of chaos” by infiltrating communist and anarchist groups, committing terrorist acts and then ensuring that the blame was lodged on those groups. The book includes many black and white photos of Delle Chiaie’s shape shifting operatives acting as agent provocateurs while working undercover initially within communist groups and then moving on into the Maoist (Marxist-Leninist) and anarchist movements. Christie also analyzes the mysterious death of anarchist Pinelli who ‘fell’ from a window during a police interrogation. At the time anarchists were accused of the bombings in the Piazza Fontana, Milan on December 12, 1969–an incident Delle Chiaie was later extradited, tried, and acquitted for.

The book also includes information about Delle Chiaie’s international activities. When Italy became too uncomfortable for him, he moved his operation to Franco’s Spain and then Latin America. Here he participated in various ‘dirty wars’ including Operation Condor, and the book discusses his known involvement with many international assassinations, massacres, and coup d’etats. Speculation about other suspected activities is pieced together by formerly secret documents, and internal memos while tracking Delle Chiaie’s whereabouts at the times of nefarious actions–he manages to pop up at various suspicious locations. Also covered is information regarding the Serpieri Report (conveniently buried by the Italian Secret Service), P2, The Rose of the Winds organization, and Operation Gladio. Reading this book about the shadowy career of a terrorist puppet master is a revelation for those interested in subversive political operations, and with a splendid understanding and superb definition of fascism, the author shows clearly how fascism can be utilized for nefarious purposes within a society’s infrastructure.

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