Vile Means by Steve Dimodica is a political, terrorist, spy thriller that has it all. Set in the political realm of the Bill Clinton administration, it has the premise of a very serious international situation involving relations between China and the USA being handled from the very top by a man embroiled in a personal sex scandal. And that is about all the sex there is in the entire novel, almost. Far later in the book, bad boy retired ISA agent and supposedly dead Major Gordon will have a tryst with Jessica Flekk who is his boss of a mission he is on but that is it. No strange graphic descriptions of unusual stuff.
The reader will also be exposed to the world of money laundering and currency trading. This is well explained, especially the term “hawaladar.” It is a system of money transfer still used today, not only in Latin America and the Middle East but even sometimes in the US. It is illegal in that it avoids taxation; it is outside the commonly known banking system. The interior story of the financial manipulations by Norman Stanton and the attempts to catch him by Interpol could be a book all by itself.
Then there is the further main interior story of the machinations of intelligence agencies. We readers know they are all bad no matter what country they promote the interest of. There are no friendly intelligence services that we trust. Ask Angela Merkel about that. This novel looks at the interaction of US intelligence agencies as the interact with the Israeli Mossad and with each other. The reader will read of strife between the CIA and the FBI; between the CIA and State Department Intelligence, and between the CIA and its own directorates (here called ISA). I read this with great interest as I recalled my own career as a staff officer. There is so much truth in the fiction offered.
But the intelligence story and economic story are played out on-the-ground by the interaction between well-developed characters who must work together as a covert team in the jungle, villages, and a city in Panama. A new president has been elected in Panama, the Canal is about to return to Panamanian sovereignty but there are barbaric and graphically described attacks by an unfamiliar revolutionary group on Panamanian villages. There seems to be no motive for the attacks other than to make the new government unstable. What is the motive behind the attacks?
Jessica Flekk, a novice CIA agent is picked for the very important mission of going to Panama to find out. Why would her boss not pick a more experienced agent? The reader should keep this question in mind. Jessica is first told she should convince Major Robert Gordon to join her team. He is also to pick people he knew while still on active duty to accompany them to Panama. Gordon, thought to be dead but in fact only stored by the CIA in a monastery in Vermont for an important mission such as this, travels to Ireland to recruit two of his former special ops colleagues.
The team enters Panama and soon finds out (the reader already knows this) that the leader of the little-known revolutionary group is a former Serbian who had discovered his true calling as a torturer and sadist in the Bosnian War. The descriptions of the killing done by this guy and his group are extremely graphic and not for the faint of stomach.
And the mission is on. Jessica and her team must be careful not to be found out by the sadistic Serbian. They also must not be discovered by the American Embassy, the American Army, Joshua (Mossad) and assorted criminal gangs in Panama which, while vicious, are not as bad as the Serbian.
It’s not quite saving the world, but it’s close. And there are at least two surprises at the end that are worth waiting and reading for. For those new to the machinations of intelligence agencies, there may be a few more surprises.