Title: The Flat Bureaucrat
Author: Susan Hasler
Hasler, Susan (2015). The Flat Bureaucrat: A CIA Satire. Asheville, NC: Bear Page Press
Date Posted: April 26, 2017
For Shelby Wexler, being crushed by falling concrete is only the beginning of a bad afterlife. As a senior official of the CIA, he considered Congressional oversight committees the highest form of retribution. He never entertained the possibility of post-mortem accountability. Enter Virgil, an obnoxious and expired polygraph examiner, who sends Shelby on a backward journey through the events leading up to the terrorist attack that killed him. Who was responsible? Who dropped the ball? The answers are not the sort likely to surface in a Senate hearing room. The Flat Bureaucrat is the stand-alone sequel to Susan Hasler’s hilarious and terrifying debut novel, Intelligence. Informed by Hasler’s two decades in the Agency, these books will make you laugh and make you think about the CIA and national security in a whole new way.
If Susan Hasler’s Intelligence was “24” meets “The Office”, it’s sequel, The Flat Bureaucrat, is “It’s a Wonderful Life” meets the 9/11 report. In case it isn’t readily apparent, that’s a good thing.
Hasler’s years as an analyst in the CIA have served her well in her latest novel. She is able to pinpoint the absurdities, the screw-ups and the personalities, not just in the world of modern intelligence, but in modern office life. As with the best novels, by focusing on the specificity of working at the CIA, the author opens the story up to the universality of working in an office anywhere. It draws you into the story whether you are a spy fan or not.
John le Carré, the granddaddy of spy novelists, is known for creating a whole new vernacular when talking about “The Circus”, his version of MI6; Hasler has managed to take this concept to even greater heights for the CIA. Her co-opting of mining terminology to define the various areas of the CIA is not only a perfect way to give context to the various players, but also allows for some great moments of humor with various acronyms used to great comic effect.
Much of this inventiveness and satire was present in Intelligence. What gives this novel a greater weight is a sense of mortality, of seconds slipping away, that pervades the story. We have a limited time on Earth; how would we look back on it and would we say we took advantage of every second we had? It’s hard not to let those questions pass through your mind as you read. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a dirge. Hasler is light on her feet and knows when to defuse the tension with humor and when to get more contemplative.
Although it provides a complete story, it does leave room for a sequel. Here’s hoping we see it.