This week Duane Swierczynski, writer of Marvel’s Cable and an upcoming arc in Punisher MAX, and St. Martin’s Minotaur release Severance Package—Swierczynski’s latest offering to the world of fiction…and it’s better than good—it’s a disorienting heart attack riddled with bullets and suspense; neatly tied off with a single screaming finish. It’s a very unique read; it’s like a corporate-themed, spy-lurking Battle Royale with Pepperidge Farm cookies, cubicles, and water-cooler stylized office drama mixed with a hint of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” which also gets a nod in the dedication of book.
Severance Package is a torrid tale of a “clean-up” action of CI-6, a branch of the intelligence community destined for termination (yes, that kind of “termination”), posing as Murphy Knox & Associates, and how everything goes terribly wrong for Jamie DeBroux and a couple of “out of the loop” lower-level executives at a Saturday afternoon “manager meeting” to aid in the closing up of shop. Jamie’s boss, David, basically tells him that he’s been working for a covert operation unknowingly—and now, it’s time to punch out on the time-clock…one last time via a cocktailed beverage or a bullet to the head. Things take a turn for the worst when Molly, David’s personal assistant, goes rogue and decides to shoot David in the head for her own personal reasons which I won’t divulge because it’s a really solid “MacGuffin” in this book. A fight for survival ensues, naturally—in a building that is locked from the inside and on fire, sporting espionage-style accoutrements like Sarin gas-bombed doorways and poisoned champagne.
Swierczynski’s style is minimal but evocative. He does a very smart move in the opening chapter of the book that let’s the reader into the head of each of the players for just a second—an omnipresent peek—and it will successfully confuse you more as the stage sets for the real story in this book. His tone is deft and yet thoughtful enough that a reader may doubt their own attentiveness; having to double back a few pages to make sure they didn’t miss something important. There are some really healthy swerves in the book. Swierczynski does a good job of propagating the confusion that takes place in this story by interjecting you for brief moments in an out of your protagonist’s point-of-view and into other supporting characters who are marked for termination.
Also, Severance Package is stylishly packaged. The cover has a very ‘Pulp’ crime comic feel to it and there are a number of inserted pieces of simple artwork that aids the tone or dramatic high points as they occur in the story. Further, Swierczynski prefaces his chapters with famous business-related quotes both anonymous and by successful businessmen—and they prove to be both comical and ironic. These small pieces of the puzzle don’t prove to be contrived like a lot of “quote and quotable” stylizations can come across in fiction-based content.
I was awash with a number of different emotions as I reached the climactic finish of this book in all its horrific glory. If this story can give you any sort of inkling of an idea as to the kind of mind Duane Swierczynski possesses—then I tell you, “Run, run very fast.” Not in a bad way mind you, I mean for you to run to the store, pick up this book, maybe a copy of The Blonde, maybe an issue of Cable; or at least make plans to grab his run on Punisher MAX. I’ll say this—I’ll never think twice about trying to sleep with a co-worker again and I believe that Severance Package just cured me of my love of Pepperidge Farm cookies. You’ll never look at your boss the same way again.