Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Note: Intelligence by Susan Hasler

Intelligence was undeniably an impulse buy - at the very least I wanted to see the CIA ensignia with bunny ears. It was a classic case of the author doing the work to sell her book - without even appearing to be selling. Hasler spoke at the Charlotte Writer's Club in October and opened up the floor to questions about her book, her background, her time at the CIA, writing in general or anything else the audience felt compelled to ask. I didn't walk into the meeting interested in buying a book in the "thriller" genre, but I ended up with one. And I wasn't disappointed.

Hasler admitted that she didn't even realize she was writing a thriller until her editor came back to her with the classification. It's easy to understand why it would be a hard book to put fairly in the genre - and she warned us that if we did like the traditional shoot-'em-up, Bond-esque, undercover writings of this category that we would be disappointed. As she frequently points out to those who critique Intelligence for this shortcoming, you're reading thrillers from someone with and MFA - this is a book written by someone from the CIA.

Her experience in the CIA is evident - even if she has to change the acronyms and general descriptors - the plots, the bureaucracy, the believable "intelligence failures", and the even more believable frustrated characters responsible for the aforementioned failures. Told through the eyes of various members of "The Mines", the book winds its way from a post-9/11 scenario into another terror plot that is almost intercepted. Almost doesn't count in counterterrorism though. The people who had been working furiously to stop the attack now work doubly hard to prevent misguided military intervention in an unconnected state. The connection to modern events is not hard to catch and the protagonists' (or rather, author's) feelings about the relationship between the Executive Branch and intelligence-gathering agencies is likewise easy to interpret.

Despite a setting that is mystical to many, the stories and frustrations are strikingly similar to those experienced in any bureaucracy - or, I'd venture to guess, any corporate setting with a strict hierarchy. So, worker bees can relate. In the process, readers laugh at the intersection of professional and personal lives, think twice about the crossroads of politics and protection, and all in all, enjoy a good read.

Actually, I think I'd be more inclined to read "thriller" novels if more of them were like Intelligence.

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