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Review: Shafer takes on tech, inertia, freedom and conspiracy in ambitious debut

Cover art for 'Whisky Tango Foxtrot'
Courtesy of: Mulholland Books

Whisky Tango Foxtrot


David Shafer’s Whisky Tango Foxtrot (available on August 5) is ambitious a fiction debut as you’re ever likely to encounter. Shafer writes from the disparate points of view of Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned, yet steadfast, non-profit worker; Leo Crane, an unhinged trustafarian; and Mark Deveraux, a phony self-embetterment guru who is unwittingly at work for a clandestine group known as The Committee. Despite being the better part of a world away from each other, the stories of Mark, Leila and Leo become entwined.

The aforementioned Committee is an international cabal of industrialists and media barons, an already powerful group on the verge of privatizing all information, without most of the world being any the wiser. On the other side stand Dear Diary, an idealistic online Underground determined to stop that takeover by any means possible -- spycraft, radical politics, technology on par with Tony Stark , whatever works. It is into this struggle that Leila, Leo and Mark find themselves pulled. Leila, living in Myanmar, becomes embroiled when her curious nature leaders her to see something The Committee would rather she hadn’t. Meanwhile, Leo is on their radar because his paranoia-fueled blog posts are hedging a too close to the truth, even though most dismiss them off-hand as the conspiracies of a damaged mind. Mark however, finds himself in the back pocket of one of The Committee’s most influential members -- the billionaire owner of a Google-esque search giant -- and under pressure to join in on his next big project.

Over the course of the novel’s 432 pages, Shafer sets his characters on a collision course with one another, masterfully elevating their individual worries to struggles with global implications. The result is a reader experience that is at once loaded with action and introspection. Diving into the pages is akin to reading an episode of Homeland mashed up with the hallmark traits of existential literature.

Perhaps as a result of his journalistic past, Shafer has a keen eye for details in both his characters and their surroundings. They themselves make wry observations, the pages often filled with rich inner dialogue alongside the exterior actions that send them hurtling toward one another. At turns the novel feels like a breakneck spy thriller, until, just around the next corner it morphs into a darkly comedic look at the realities of the human condition in our increasingly technology-fueled world. Though logic tells us these shouldn’t mesh, Shafer uses the opposites attract genius of peanut butter and chocolate to render a unique literary treat.

Ultimately, it does feel as if a number of things are left unsaid and undone at the novel’s close, which will certainly displease some. Though, for a certain amount of abruptness, nothing about the tale feels incomplete, rather, we’re just left wanting to see more of Leila, Leo and Mark. Just perhaps, that’s something in which Shafer will oblige us.


Title: Whisky Tango Foxtrot
Author: David Shafer
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publish Date: August 5, 2014
Language: English

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