I had high hopes for the Avery Dick series. Diplomatic Security (DS) Agents have some of the most colorful stories in the Foreign Service trade. They walk like cops. They talk like cops. They’re security professionals steeped the gritty detail of protective service. Their beat is peculiar: sniff out bombs and throw up barricades; investigate treason and bust international scofflaws; safeguard state secrets and shuttle around with high-flying diplomats, foreign and domestic.*
That’s why I figured Dick Does Liberia for a blast: a retired DS agent narrates his return to war-torn West Africa on a detail cloaked in mystery. A glance at the chapters suggests a writer in control of his art, making the most of an unserious world: “Dankest Africa”; “Mumbo Jumbo”; “Mercy! Beaucoup”; “Juju Jamboree.” The list is long.
Parts of it deliver: “I awakened several times by what I first thought were the sounds of gunshots very close by. I reflexively took defensive action by pulling my sheet over my head and praying that it was only a neighbor being attacked…” This is the wry, self-deprecating humor we expect of a lawman in control of his situation. A little clumsy in delivery, but sardonic to the core.
It gets better: “In the morning, I identified the attackers—pear-sized almond fruits that had fallen from the trees onto the metal roof above my bed.” He calls it an “an obvious gangbang by a bunch of out-of-control nuts.”
More than a hint at self-awareness—it’s a dangerous, dirty world, but not as dangerous and dirty as it may seem. In fact if you can’t laugh at yourself and all that threatens you, stay at home and watch the tube.
I hoped such prose would fill the pages. It wasn’t to be.
Unfortunately by this point our dick Avery Dick had already checked brevity with his piece at the embassy gate, failing to bring on the banter. Much of the proceedings are delivered as monologue, reading more like the minutes of a jaded Country Team briefing or grudging welcome cable/post report than the street tough chatter between cops, the witty ripostes between men of the badge.
The worst part is the delivery of historical context and back-story, which comes as repetitive 6-8 page monologues from various characters, minus interjection and comedic interplay. Straight monologue paragraph after paragraph from the mind of the narrator and the mouths of cops. Tedious and difficult reading.
Lurching along clumsily, over-written, Avery Dick soon wears out his signature line: “Sometimes those who protect and serve had sticky fingers capable of withstanding the traumas of nasty paper cuts.” (40). “Sometimes poor dressing skills and megalomania had to be overlooked and ignored by those who protect and serve” (42). “Sometimes those who protect and serve preferred to safely and discreetly parse their written words in a wholly frivolous, passé lingua franca” (45). “Sometimes those who protect and serve found that Happy Hour was not always funny” (46).
Sometimes the reader gets bored with the same mockery of an oft-turned phrase. If its gritty cop prose you want, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.
Readers interested in a Diplomatic Security tale set on the front line of the war on terror can take a look at Two Pumps for the Body Man.