Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA
by Susan Hasler
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312576035
Date: 22 June 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Dr. Madeleine "Maddie" James is the senior alchemist in the Counterintelligence Supersector of the Ministry of Intelligence (Mines). Five years after 9/11, she is having bizarre psychic dreams warning her of another impending terrorist attack. After much begging, Maddie convinces her incompetent management to allow her to form a canary crew, which consists of a zany assortment of her oddball coworkers. Despite their endless hours of poring over data, a terrorist attack occurs, killing 690 people. Maddie's canary crew is ostracized for not preventing the disaster. To make matters worse, there is a government cover-up to convince the public that Iran was responsible. To salvage their careers, Maddie and her coworkers race against time to find out who ordered the cover-up.
An obviously gifted writer, Susan Hasler breaks all the rules to deliver Intelligence--a most unusual, highly entertaining novel. First, she is able to successfully blend two genres; her thriller is as relentlessly humorous as it is relentlessly terrifying. I laughed throughout the novel. On the other hand, the events leading up to the terrorist attack were very suspenseful; the attack itself was horrifying. Second, the novel is told from the first person of more than one character. Each chapter delivers a segment of the story as seen from the eyes of a different employee. For comic relief, one of the characters is deceased; the legendary Vaughn Sutter Wayne lies in his grave and criticizes how weak and incompetent present-day employees of the Mines are compared to when he was alive.
A former employee of the CIA, Susan Hasler must have drawn upon her work experiences to create Maddie and her odd, but lovable coworkers. Perhaps she has read every Dilbert cartoon since conception. She must've asked herself, "What if Dilbert worked for the Mines and suspected there would be a terrorist attack?" I too am a government employee working at a Department of Defense facility and I can empathize with Maddie's nerve-wracking plight. There are the endless security measures that make life difficult; they consist of fences with razor wire, the guards checking badges, the concrete barricades, the cipher locks, and the endless list of passwords that are suppose to be memorized. There are the incompetent Seagull managers who don't understand what you are doing but swoop down every once in a while and crap on your work. There are the brown-nosers who get promoted over the more qualified. There are endless series of computer crashes and reorganizations. I have a website of acronyms to which I must constantly refer in order to perform my duties. (Intelligence is full of acronyms; thankfully it has a glossary.) My coworkers fight and bicker but we all love each other. The only thing Susan Hasler omitted from her novel was the quarterly urine analysis tests.
Speaking of employees, by the end of the novel, I was falling in love with Maddie James and the quirky, diverse members of her canary crew: Doc Hartman, Fran Monroe, Vivian Fields, Vernon Keene, Kristen Russell and Bonnie Weathers. The Mines's version of the Seven Dwarfs. Two of them went together on a covert operation; two of them fell in love; and two of them badly needed to go on a diet. They fought and bickered amongst themselves but, in the end, they supported Maddie when she testified at the hearings related to the terrorist attack. Maddie is obviously the novels' protagonist or heroine. She is divorced and living with her overbearing mom, Gladys James, who also works at the Mines; she was once married to Doc's philandering son, Rick; she owns a pet rabbit, Abu Bunny; and has devoted her entire life to the Mines. Outside of work, Maddie has no real friends. Much of the office drama centers around her. For example, Maddie sleeps with Fran's son Allan, a demolitions expert, in order to acquire information about his top secret mission in Iran.
Intelligence has innumerable office high jinks; they include spitting in lattes, hiding underwear in secret files, space heaters catching on fire and employees getting caught having affairs. There is also a great deal of suspense and horror such as a throat slashing, cyanide poisonings, mass panic and suicide bombings. Intelligence is a humorous, action packed novel that is highly, highly recommended for mystery fans who crave something different. The reader won't be disappointed. I very much enjoyed this novel despite its anti-George Bush, anti-Republican overtones. Intelligence is extremely intriguing, dramatic and provocative. Other humorous thrillers that I recommend are Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea, Brad Parks’s Faces of the Gone, Brian M. Wiprud's Buy Back and Douglas Corleone's One Man's Paradise.