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Sunday, 27 December 2015

‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ by David Shafer

Published by Penguin Books,
4 June 2015.
ISBN: 978 -0-241-97276-2

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an extraordinary book. Whilst it is a techno-thriller about data mining that conveys an understated, but pervading, menace, for me, it was not the plot - important and topical though protection of privacy undoubtedly is - that put Whiskey Tango Foxtrot into a class of its own.  Rather, it was the compellingly crafted portraits of three thirty–something, vulnerable Americans, combined with the darkly comic, insightful and sharp comments about the ordinary and irritating obstacles they meet that I really enjoyed.

The first of the three youngsters we meet is Leila. Whilst working for a charity in Burma she stumbles across a heavily guarded installation in the jungle. Her curiosity about its role gets her expelled from Burma.  It also results in untrue allegations designed to ruin her father being deliberately orchestrated in the USA.

 To clear her father’s name Leila joins a group of activists determined to combat a powerful cabal that records all information transmitted electronically about us. The cabal is also using a biometric sampling and surveillance device to record our behavioral and physiological characteristics. Their ultimate aims are presumably to blackmail and control, or to annihilate whatever proportion of the population fails to meet their exacting standards. 

On her way home to the USA Leila meets Mark, a drug and drink imbibing soul from an under-privileged background who has been corrupted by the trappings of fame and wealth.  But, as one of the cabal’s leaders has taken a shine to a ridiculous and incomprehensible self-help book Mark has written, Mark is, unwittingly, in a strong position to neutralize the cabal.

Leo is the third, and to my mind the most endearing, of the three young Americans. Riddled with guilt and clinically depressed, Leo seems to possess a sixth sense about the cabal’s spying techniques.  When Leo posts his thoughts on line, the activists send Leila to see if he might be willing to help them by bringing pressure to bear on Mark.

Coincidentally, Mark, who had been at College with Leo, decides to contact Leo.  Leo and Leila appeal to Mark’s better nature, and he agrees to help them inactivate the cabal’s systems.  Does he succeed? 

This is a brilliant debut novel.  I will be watching for his next one.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

David Shafer was born in New York City, USA. He is a graduate of Harvard and the Columbia Journalism School. He has lived in Argentina and Dublin, and worked as a journalist, a carpenter and a taxi driver. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is his first book.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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