Reviewed by Ron Clinton
Boston-area author Dave Zeltserman continues his streak of compulsively-readable thrillers with OUTSOURCED, a novel that examines the illicit lengths to which desperate people will sometimes go to recapture the lifestyle they feel they need or deserve. OUTSOURCED focuses on a group of middle-aged software engineers who have all seen their jobs outsourced to foreign countries, leaving them unemployed, embittered and vying for control and financial solvency in their lives. Their solution: take advantage of a known programming weakness in the computer security of a local bank that will allow them to rob it without fear of alarms.
Dan Wilson, the central protagonist of the novel, has additional concerns that push him to embrace this solution – he is going blind, and his health insurance is no longer present to ensure his care and, in turn, his family’s future. His wife ratchets up the pressure by urging him to find a job, and we see Wilson’s faltering commitment to pull the heist unintentionally bolstered by her encouragements. The driving motivations of his fellow engineers are somewhat less pressing, but no less valid and reasonable in their own eyes. These are the types of characters that drove the paperback-original industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s: desperate individuals driven to deviancy because of external pressures, real or perceived, who through their own actions become quickly enmeshed in a cyclical plummeting of misfortune. As was typical in those vintage novels, things go wrong in OUTSOURCED. Violently wrong. The solidarity of Wilson and rest of his amateur crew abruptly splinter, and all four claw for the spoils of their robbery and, increasingly, their own survival. Dan’s struggle is particularly compelling as he comes to see that his actions may have unforeseen and frightening ramifications for the lives of his family. Throw in Russian gangsters, a FBI agent adrift in his own emotional despair, and a familial environment in the Wilson home that adds a sobering and emotional contrast to the criminal aspect, and you have what will surely be one of this Spring’s best suspense novels.
While OUTSOURCED is an outstanding novel, it is, however, not a perfect one as it does lack a certain degree of plausibility in spots. First, it seems somewhat unlikely that a group of four previously law-abiding friends would all suddenly and unanimously agree to commit a major felony by robbing a bank. None of the other three engineers appear as constrained by their problems as Dan, so their easy acquiescence to join Dan in his heist seems perhaps more an example of creative license than organic realism. In addition, an action by one of the four engineers outside the bank immediately following the robbery also strains plausibility since it’s almost certain to spell their downfall; the inevitability of the event’s consequences, however, does serve well as an authorial device to logically unfold the rest of the compelling narrative. Yet, as with most caper stories, these instances of questionable plausibility do not really serve to weaken the novel. Similar to the film OCEAN’S 11 (and its sequel, OCEAN’S 12), OUTSOURCED is enthralling, wide-screen commercial entertainment (no surprise then that its movie rights have already been snatched up pre-publication), which perhaps affords it certain narrative liberties that Zeltserman’s more literary noirs like PARIAH and KILLER could not abide.
Zeltserman was employed in the software industry for twenty-two years, and this intimate familiarity adds an authenticity to the explosive drama of the novel and, in particular, to the IT engineers who struggle within its construct. The author’s mastery at characterization is as honed here as it’s ever been, and the narrative thrust displays furious cinematic pacing. Caper and heist novels of the sort exemplified by Lionel White and Richard Stark, respectively, have spurred a number of imitators throughout the decades, but few match the thrills present in Zeltserman’s contemporary offering. Highly recommended.