When this latest wacky thriller from Bury (Interface, not reviewed)—a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age, 1995, etc.) and J. Frederick George—puts a bunch of overweight, incorruptible Iowa huskers up against Saddam Hussein just before Desert Storm, you know the bad guy with the moustache is going to take a fall. Washington, D.C., couldn't be farther from Folks County, Iowa, where the murder of an Arab agriculture student sends the slow- talking Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks poking into the drab closets of a high-tech bioscience laboratory that just might be cooking up Saddam's next biological warfare weapon. Meanwhile, Betsy Vandeventer, a meek, low-level CIA analyst, formerly of Folks County, makes the mistake of informing her superiors that not enough of the billions in Food for Peace foreign aid going into Iraq is being spent on soybeans. Targeted for bureaucratic extinction, Vandeventer forms an uneasy partnership with Richard Spector, a slickly confident CIA executive of uncertain loyalties. The authors play satirically with the humble cloth from which history stitches its tapestry, as the fate of the free world stumbles on, propelled by the random, inconsequential, frequently stupid, and often hilarious foibles of mere mortals. Slimy ``inside of the inside of the inside'' power-players join unctuous hit men and hopeless drunks to create mayhem for the plain Heartland types like Vandeventer, Banks and his bride, Desiree ``Deltoids'' Dhont, an Army Reserve nurse who sticks Banks with their five-month old daughter so she can win one for Poppy Bush when Desert Shield becomes Desert Storm. The plain folks take a few tumbles, Banks changes more than his share of diapers, and the world remains safe for democracy—until, at least, the authors bless us with a sequel. A charming, uproariously clever thriller, in the tradition of Ross Thomas and Richard Condon, with plenty of wry wit and deftly rendered characters.
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