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"This is a law office, Miss Goldberg. We expect a more professional attitude. Understood?"
She stood blankly for a moment, then a funny look came over her face. "I'm sorry. I guess you want me to smile while I'm being screwed. But you know, if I'm going to do that I might as well work in a whorehouse - at least I'll be in a more professional environment. Don't even bother saying it. I quit."
Some realities are only vague abstractions before they hit you in the face. "Outsourcing" or "Downsizing" doesn't mean anything before the company you work for kicks your ass on the curb and leaves you fending for yourself after a mandatory group seminar on "reorientation", another hollow term. Any book published by Serpent's Tail is going to intrigue me, because they specialize in "high risk fiction". OUTSOURCED by Dave Zeltserman stood out to me as particularly original, because it's dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing. A contemporary calamity disguised as corporate lingo. The idea of tackling such ambitious issues through crime fiction is extremely seducing to me and while OUTSOURCED had its flaws, it's a quality novel that mixes traditional elements of its genre with original input.
Forget about the title for now, what you have to know before picking OUTSOURCED up is that it's a heist novel, first and foremost. A very good one. It's about Dan, Shrinivas, Gordon and Joel, four disgruntled employees from a firm called Vixxox, who decide to rob a bank after their company got downsized. They are too old to attract other firms and they are all strapped for cash. Dan has come up with the idea and the plan to rob the bank. Maybe he wasn't the best guy for the job. He's an easy-going, peaceful guy who doesn't like tension amongst his group of friends. Some would call him a pushover. It takes a certain kind of man to pull a successful bank heist and first thing you have to know is that it's far from being over after the getaway.
One of the big things OUTSOURCED has going for itself is that it deals with a bank heist in two separate aspects, before and after. It's a known thing in crime fiction (and for humanity in general) that people start sucking when big money is involved. Dave Zeltserman understands that reality and milks the hell out of it, with the characters of Joel and Viktor, who I thought were remarkably well drawn. Joel, in particular, is quite the home run. He's an unapologetic opportunist who wants to control his destiny at all cost. His dialogue is seamless and brilliant. Viktor Petrenko is also a great character, but he's more archetypal to crime fiction. Zeltserman does a great job at mixing classic figures with original ones and this idea gave OUTSOURCED a life of its own.
"I don't even know how to used a gun," Dan said weakly.
"Typical Massachusetts liberal, "Joel sneered. "Expect others to fight your battles for you. Not this time, buddy boy. I have my own private shooting range dug out in the basement. I'm going to teach you how to fire a gun. And I want to see how your two buddies do also. All of you, downstairs now."
There were weaker points to Zeltserman's novel. I thought Dan was a weak lead character and he borderline played with my suspension of disbelief. The man is so soft and naive, he never seems to fully understand the gravity of what he's doing and especially not during the planning part. On the technical side, he's doing great but on the practical side of the robbery, it's like a visit to the water slide park for him. You never really tap into his despair as much as for other characters like Joel, Gordon or even Dan' wife Carol. I would have also loved to have more insight on the outsourcing theme, a more alienating corporate America, but the novel is too taken with the heist elements to go deeper into the social commentary. But like I said it's very forgivable, because it's a good heist novel.
OUTSOURCED has been optioned for a movie and it could turn out to be a great noir. It has memorable scenes and strong dialogue. Also, maybe a strong performance from a talented lead actor could give Dan's character a new light. With this novel, Dave Zeltserman has taken the most tired of the noir tropes (the bank heist) and gave it a new life. While it doesn't have the social reach I thought it possessed at first, it's a novel that does what it does good and that's shaking the old crime fiction ideas and injecting new variables into it. Although it will disappoint those looking for a social novel of the Lehane type, fans of the crime genre won't want to miss OUTSOURCED.