Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer: Book Review

FictionWhiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shafer, science fiction
Released August, 2014

432 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

A Burma (aka Myanmar) based non-profit worker (Leila), a directionless heir to a board game empire (Leo), and an one hit wonder self-help guru (Mark) are improbably brought together to prevent an international cabal (the Committee) from taking control of all the world’s information.

My Thoughts on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was somewhat of a shot-in-the-dark book for me. I went into it with few expectations and little understanding of what the book was truly about (the blurb was somewhat nonsensical!), but I was pleasantly surprised by Shafer’s snarky writing style and well-done character development. I’m definitely tacking Whiskey Tango Foxtrot onto my swiftly growing list of stellar 2014 debut novels!

Initially, I thought Whiskey Tango Foxtrot would be more of a sci-fi/thriller-type book and there certainly is a thriller aspect to it. But, I felt the book was much more about the characters…and that’s where Shafer really shines. Leo, Leila, and Mark are so well developed that I was immediately invested in their stories…to the point where I almost didn’t care about how they all fit into the effort to take out the Committee. I just wanted to see what happened to each of them.

Leila is a world traveller/do-gooder who works for the humanitarian organization “Helping Hands”. Leo (my favorite character…he has a good heart despite his issues) is a manic depressive, alcoholic, pot smoking grandson of a board game magnate who works at a Day Care Center and, though irresponsible, is improbably loved by the children there. Mark (a college friend of Leo’s) is a successful self-help guru who published a late night missive written while drunk/high that inexplicably took off. He’s now a talk show trotting celebrity desperately in need of his own advice, even if it was written in a drunken stupor. The central question surrounding Mark is this:

Was he a serious writer or a freakishly lucky drunk pillhead? There was a lot riding on the answer.

Another aspect of the book that hooked me was learning about what life is like for a foreigner in Burma. I knew next to nothing about Burma (including that it’s now called Myanmar!) going into this and was fascinated to find out that it can be a really dangerous place. It’s a hybrid socialist/military dictatorship where foreigners are watched closely…a bit reminiscent of the Cold War-era Soviet Union. I think I’d just imagined it as more similar to Thailand, where everyone smiles all the time. It’s actually more like this…

The Myanmarese […] spent all their energy protecting what little they had or avoiding persecution; there was nothing left over for hope. And no one on the outside cared that much, or was even sure of its name. […] The rest of the world just avoided this place, as on the street you’d avoid a stinking, panstless drunk – because where would you even begin?

The conspiracy theory/thriller part of the story is a bit slow developing, but it didn’t bother me that much because I was so into the characters. I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy theory and this one provided a fascinating “what if” scenario for real life involving the privacy of information…not just online information, but things like thoughts, fears, weaknesses, etc. In reality, the conspiracy is a bit farfetched, but is still interesting to consider. 

Like many debuts, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn’t perfect and its main issue is the ending. It felt unfinished and will drive “loose ends tied up” people crazy…unless it’s the set-up for a sequel. Hmm…something to consider…

Despite the ending, the snarky writing and well-drawn characters were enough to make Whiskey Tango Foxtrot a very strong debut and I’m looking forward to seeing what Shafer does next. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is going on my Books for Guys List.

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4 Comments

  1. Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home wrote:

    I considered this one when it popped up on my library list of new books but I took a pass. Think I’ll reconsider after reading your review!

    Posted 10.8.14 Reply
  2. I enjoyed your review Sarah. This sounds like an interesting novel. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Posted 10.8.14 Reply
  3. I think I read the first paragraph, got distracted and for whatever reason never went back to this one. After reading your thoughts on it sounds like I should go back and read it! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Posted 10.10.14 Reply
  4. Stephen Q. Shafer (@StephenShafer1) wrote:

    Thanks for a thoughtful review that does justice to the ending too

    Posted 10.12.14 Reply

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