IRS agent Mark Douglas will stop at nothing to find his boss’s killer in this debut novel.
This book’s subtitle is Tales of a Badass IRS Agent; usually, in popular culture, “badass” and “IRS” are mutually exclusive terms. The agency’s functionaries are generally portrayed as milquetoast, like Will Ferrell in the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction. Here, Mark Douglas refers to himself as a “glorified accountant,” but he’s also an ex-Marine who leads his “bang-squad,” “the United States government’s own repo men,” on raids to seize tax-cheats’ money or possessions in order to square them with Uncle Sam. One such raid opens the story, as the squad—including 30-year veteran Harry Salt, newbie Miguel, and “weird” Wooly Bob—recovers $15,500 hidden in a Colt 45 can. The group’s camaraderie is further illustrated in the next scene—a barroom brawl with a man they call the “Human Fire Hydrant” and five of his friends after he gets too handsy with the squad’s favorite waitress. These scenes are played for laughs, but as Douglas’ boss, Lila Everston, notes, “You boys love playing cowboys and tax evaders. But someone’s gonna get hurt one of these days.” Tragically, that someone is Lila, whom Douglas considers to be “the big sister I should have had.” He teams up with an FBI wonk with the nickname “Tightass” to avenge her death. Zaslove, an award-winning writer of children’s TV programming (including The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, for which he earned a Humanitas Prize), delivers a series launcher that’s decidedly and bracingly not for kids. There are several groanworthy punchlines, which can be taxing (“At least it wasn’t a six-foot, seven-inch albino Texan singing the aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and accompanying himself on a Peruvian goat’s-hoof rattle”). But for the most part, this inaugural case is pleasingly complex. Lila’s demise comes early, so she doesn’t make a very strong impression, but readers will still feel Douglas’ loss. While processing his anger, the protagonist recalls when he stood up to his abusive stepfather in what may be the book’s most effective section.
An engaging mystery that offers plenty of potential for a planned series.