Victor in the Rubble by Alex Finley (2016, Smiling Hippo Press)
Victor In The Rubble is the first novel by veteran government intelligence worker Alex Finley. I heard her interviewed about the book on the Spycast and decided to give it a read based on the show. It’s based on the years she worked in the foreign service and the incredibly stupid things she was forced to endure. During the interview, she claimed the genesis of the book took place when she wondered what would happen if the terrorists had to endure the same level of bureaucracy that she had to put up with. The book is funny, although more in the vein of Bright Young Things as opposed to 007.
Victor Caro is an intelligence officer who works for the CYA. He’s in the African nation of Pigallo which is a rival to the African nation of Zuzu. The CYA is busy executing the Total War On Terror (TWOT). Every thing is coordinated by the Intelligence Uber Director (IUD). Victor loves his country, is a capable spy, but can’t stand the bureaucracy he must deal with.
At the same time, Omar al-Suqquit is very excited. His family has suffered many indignation because of the dictator of Zuzu. Omar leads a ragtag group of rebels called “The Brotherhoood”. However, he’s recently sworn allegiance to “The Base” out of Rubblestan and hopes to take his fight to the hated West. Omar is a capable soldier in God’s army, but he can’t understand why the representatives from the The Base want him to keep receipts and worry about environmental impact statements.
Everything comes to a head when Victor chases Omar to the United States. Although Omar has some problems with American culture- he can’t understand why his new apartment’s dishwasher won’t show up and do her job-he forges along on his mission of terror. Will Victor catch up to him in time?
The book is full of hilarious parodies of bureaucrats and other sycophants. There is a government supervisor who won’t allow Victor to use a chair because its reserved for someone of a higher job classification. She manages to include a clueless diplomat who doesn’t believe a coup is about to take place until he’s in the middle of it.
Here is a sample of the humor from the novel:
“The rising Emir of the Core in the Kingdom spoke up. He was tall and had a thick mustache. “We were having a terrible time filling our number three slot,” he said. Everyone murmured their immediate understanding of the problem. The Great Enemy had faced difficulties terminating those holding the top two posts in many Core franchises, but holders of the third post were routinely meeting their destiny through Hellfire missiles. “Nobody wanted the job. I offered it to several of my lieutenants. They all declined. I knew I needed a new perspective to attract the right fighter, so that position might be filled and our struggle could move forward. I stopped mentioning the great responsibilities of the position, and instead focused on the urgency to attain Paradise and its non-earthly delights, along with the fact that, if he didn’t like the job, it was likely a short-term position.” He smiled. “I have managed to fill that number three slot several times now.’”
But I think this passage best explains why people become secret intelligence officers:
“Victor resented this charade. If he had cared about money, he would have become a banker. If he had cared about power, he would have aimed for CEO at a Fortune 500 company. He cared about mission, doing the right thing for his country, no matter how pansy that sounded. How could he explain to the department chief that he didn’t give a rat’s ass about promotion and had fabricated the need for consultations just so he could get back to Washington to secretly meet with a friend at the FBI to try to figure out what a terrorist and his financier were up to because Director seemed determined not to care? The department chief would crush him for not being concerned with his career trajectory. He was lying to his employer in order to do his job, while his employer chastised him for not caring about his job. Rather than launch into a tirade about the irony, Victor simply smiled.”
This is a fun little book by a person who has been there and done that. I look for more from her.