AMBER LOVE 19-AUG-2014 I popped over to GoodReads to type out this review of DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI’S “SEVERANCE PACKAGE,” when things caught my attention. I saw a few of the one-star reviews which made me feel bad for novelist Duane Swierczynski but then I read the text of each one and, as if they were copied and pasted, I saw the phrase “orgy of violence.” Well… yes. Yes it is. You need to know what Swierczynski is capable of when it comes to telling action stories.
That’s the thing I suspect a lot of the one-star reviewers are missing. They aren’t seeing the popcorn through the trees. Every book is like an 80’s action movie and despite how grotesque some of the violence can be, there’s only one of his many novels that I’ve read that crossed over into horror not action (HELL AND GONE) for my likes. I happen to enjoy a great action film so I take the time to enjoy a Swierczynski novel when I’m not in the mood for an intense crime noir about drug-addled sex workers needing a man to save them. I need something fun to clean my brain after those kinds of stories. He has his own tropes like women ending up in their underwear for no reason and sometimes the lack of reason is even pointed out humorously.
I’ve had SEVERANCE PACKAGE on the TBR shelf for quite some time. Then someone mentioned it on Twitter and I replied: my job is in jeopardy right now, I don’t think this book is the best thing for me. Then Swierczynski (@swierczy) chimed in as he tends to do and said I might find it therapeutic. He was dead on correct.
I’m a very slow reader. I usually get sleepy after a few pages and my mind wanders off into some other place where I take of the story as if I’m there. Eventually I can reel myself back in if it’s suitable for me and I’m enjoying it. I read through SEVERANCE PACKAGE in only 4 sittings, 3 of which were short, getting me through only a few pages. I read 90% of it at once. That’s saying a lot for me.
And two weeks after I picked it up and had been carrying it around, I sure did get laid off. I was stressed as you can imagine. I took a Sunday to not look at job boards or my resume and I sat and read through this (sober even).
The characters come into their own at a reasonable pace where you get to know one well enough before moving on to the point of view of another. It’s a magnificent example of a bottle story but does break through on a few occasions drifting to these super spies that act as external narrators. Those are the only people that I don’t think serve the story even though I loved incorporating dudes that break the barrier of machismo this way. They could be eliminated especially the female super spy introduced at the end who gets about a paragraph. She’s not needed at all but provides continued gender and sexual diversity which Swierczynski is good at including. The antagonist is the only one to interact via camera with the super spy observers. I think there’s probably a different way to make them feel more a part of the story but then it removes the “bottle” effect and tension of being trapped in one place.
Another thing Swierczynski does when he presents over the top violence like guns and martial arts moves that no one can relate to in reality, is that he loves to keep characters alive and tortured. Whenever certain characters would have more dialog, I did question, “wasn’t that guy dead already?” No one is really dead until the final act and even then, they might get away. It’s like when the Terminator rises up out of the burning machine shop debris and needs to be crushed one final time.
I also need to address the spot illustrations by Dennis Calero. I know Calero’s comic book work and he was a perfect fit for this. It’s a fantastic addition, as are the occasional other graphic elements that you don’t normally see in novels. The hit list and the blasting isolated moments with graphics and very little text. They added to this in a useful way. I did catch one art error where the wrong woman was drawn wearing pants instead of a skirt but you never know when the art was done during the writing/revision process. Swierczysnki might have added the details about a skirt later.
So, dear fellow readers, “orgy of violence” is correct but it’s up to you if the dark twisted sense of morals that his characters have is worth one star or five.