Substantial insider detail and highly developed, creatively drawn characters help make Mark Costello's Big If
a highly memorable work. Struggling to find her place in the Secret Service, Vi Asplund has accepted the high-stress position of guarding the vice president during his New Hampshire primary run. Her brother Jens, co-creator of the realistically brutal computer game Big If
, can cash in his lucrative stock options soon if his increasingly troubled conscience and mental imbalance don't overwhelm him first. Both are reeling from the death of their father Walter, a respected insurance-adjusting atheist. Vi's boss Gretchen, a single mom, is trying to maintain unity among her team as well as a connection to her troubled son. Her diverse crew includes Tashmo, a veteran agent with an overactive libido, and Lloyd Felker, a revered protection theorist and creator of The Dome, the Service-implemented area of safety.
While Jens reluctantly bows to pressure from his superiors to create human-like monsters for Big If, Felker's mysterious disappearance heightens apprehensions among the team, who are increasingly uncertain about their ability to protect the vice president against a dense and volatile public. Costello offers a remarkable level of accessible and fascinating governmental information, and he's rendered his cast with inventive depth, such as Tashmo's fixation on Ronald Reagan and the woman on the Land O'Lakes logo, or Walter's habit of crossing out the word "God" on every dollar bill. Big If is a rare novel: a complex examination of conflicting American ideals that's also accessible, fun, and totally worthwhile. --Ross Doll
From Publishers Weekly
Costello's second novel, the first under his own name (he published Bag Men as John Flood), may well be the literary discovery of the season. Organized around the presidential campaign of an unnamed vice-president who is barely glimpsed, Costello shines the plot light on the man's Secret Service guard. In Costello's America, the citizenry has given up on politics except as sort of a minor holiday; passionate political commitment belongs primarily to potential assassins. The Dome (the Secret Service's nickname) is headed by Gretchen Williams, a black single mother from L.A. haunted by the specter of riots. Her crew contains two veterans of the Reagan years: Lloyd Felker (a protection intellectual and the founder of the Dome) and Tashmo, a '70s-style philanderer suffering through the waning of his adulterous impulses. There's also the diva of Protection, beautiful, horny Bobbie Niles, and heroine Vi Asplund. Vi comes from Center Effing, N.H., where her father, Walter, was an atheist Republican insurance adjuster. Vi joined the Dome after Walter died (the compliment at his funeral from an arson squad cop was that no one could read scorch marks like her father ), and Jens, Vi's brother, works for Big If, an interactive fantasy role-playing game company. Jens is suffering a crisis of cyber faith: his code is beautiful, but the end products are literally monsters. Costello moves easily between riffs, with a truly magical feeling for insider's knowledgehow a cop sits at a bar, how a real estate agent spiels a sale, how an insurance adjuster analyzes damage. Costello might be this season's Jonathan Franzen, a dazzling literary novelist with popular appeal.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.