Whiskey Tango Foxtrot


By David Shafer

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Three young adults grapple with the usual thirty-something problems — boredom, authenticity, an omnipotent online oligarchy — in David Shafer’s darkly comic debut novel.

The Committee, an international cabal of industrialists and media barons, is on the verge of privatizing all information. Dear Diary, an idealistic online Underground, stands in the way of that takeover, using radical politics, classic spycraft, and technology that makes Big Data look like dial-up. Into this secret battle stumbles an unlikely trio: Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned non-profit worker; Leo Crane, an unhinged trustafarian; and Mark Deveraux, a phony self-betterment guru who works for the Committee.

Leo and Mark were best friends in college, but early adulthood has set them on diverging paths. Growing increasingly disdainful of Mark’s platitudes, Leo publishes a withering takedown of his ideas online. But the Committee is reading — and erasing — Leo’s words. On the other side of the world, Leila’s discoveries about the Committee’s far-reaching ambitions threaten to ruin those who are closest to her.

In the spirit of William Gibson and Chuck Palahniuk, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is both a suspenseful global thriller and an emotionally truthful novel about the struggle to change the world in- and outside your head.


Chapter 1

Mandalay, Myanmar

The little room was so hot that Leila tried not to move inside her clothing. She’d chosen the plain tan shirt with the piping on the pocket because bureaucrats are swayed by even the smallest impression of martial authority. Ditto the shiny black shoes. But the lady who took in Leila’s laundry had really gone to town on the shirt, and the result was like a suit of armor made from paper bags. Leila could feel a line of sweat trickle south down her back. A large beetle somehow injured buzzed and rattled in a corner of the stifling room.

It had been nearly two hours since one of Colonel Zeya’s underlings had instructed her to Wait here, someone will come for you! You please must not leave this room!

Fine, she’d thought then. Leila Majnoun could wait. She wasn’t going to fall for that make-the-Westerner-sit-until-she-is-undone-by-her-own-impatience trick. She pulled out her notebook. She favored Gregg-ruled steno pads; went through them at a rapid clip. She wrote in a swift and flattened cursive that was nearly illegible to anyone but herself and maybe her big sister, Roxana. She wrote mostly in English, but she also used Pashto, and some stenoglyphs that she’d invented along the way. Leila was no Luddite, but she trusted her paper notebook over any of her electronics. They usually let you keep a notebook even when they took your passport and pocket computer. Though in a secure airport interview room once, they’d taken Leila’s notebook from her hands. That’s as dicey as it had ever gotten for her. Soon after that, she’d done a job that put her in proximity to commando-type soldiers, and one of those guys had his instructions in a sort of sheet protector Velcroed to his inner wrist. The commando wrist slate—that’s the kind of personal organizer she could use.

Leila let the tedium flow around her like lava while she filled her pad with notes that would help her get through the next week of this frustrating job. Her title was director, in-country, Myanmar/Burma. But back in New York there was a country director, Myanmar/Burma. The silliness of the titles should have been her first clue that Helping Hand was a bush-league NGO. Though deep-pocketed, apparently—HQ was two floors of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. They’d hired her to do the advance work on what they said would be a twenty-year commitment to public health in northern Burma. She was supposed to be establishing a country program!—and her New York bosses said it like that, like she was a general in a tent or something, when what they really meant was rent an office, buy some desk chairs, and find out who else was working there and what wasn’t getting done. But beyond that, her two or maybe three New York bosses couldn’t even agree on what the Burma mission was. One of them thought Helping Hand should be identifying strong female candidates for full-ride scholarships to the school of nursing at Boston College. Another one thought the organization should be setting up village-based primary-care health clinics. Mainly her bosses sent her conflicting e-mails and sabotaged one another’s goals.

And in truth, Leila had herself underestimated the difficulty of achieving anything in a place like Myanmar. She had done war-torn, she had done devastated, but this living-under-tyranny thing was a super-bummer. The Myanmarese (Myanmartians, she called them in her head; the stenoglyph was an M with an ovoid helmet and antennae) 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. Was it called Burma, which had something to do with Orwell? Or Myanmar, which sounded like a name cats would give their country? The rest of the world just avoided this place, as on the street you’d avoid a stinking, pantsless drunk—because where would you even begin?

And where was that stupid little colonel? Leila was running low on anti-impatience techniques. The room seemed to have been designed to distill boredom and discomfort and focus it on the occupant. It was like being under some sort of time-stretching ray. There was the stippled layer of dust on everything; there was nothing to read but the No Smoking sign; there was one plastic fan in the corner, its electrical cord shorn off as if with a serrated knife. Smells seeped from the wooden benches and plastic blinds—cigarette smoke and greasy food and the vapors emitted by anxious humans.

Once she had done all she could reasonably do on the work flowchart, Leila just sat and thought about her family. A low-level concern for them had been rising in her lately. Roxana had written that their kid brother Dylan’s new GF was a battle-ax. Dylan hadn’t mentioned a girl to Leila. Also according to Roxana, their mother had had two suspicious falls in the last nine months, the second one resulting in a broken wrist. Leila couldn’t tell by e-mail how exactly Roxana had meant suspicious. Like, neurologically? Or alcoholically? She noted again that no one ever informed on Roxana like this. Birth order did seem to trump the other personality predictors, Leila thought. Would that be forever? What about after their parents died? How far away was that? None of the Majnoun children had spawned yet. Was that breaking their parents’ hearts? Her mom’s, yes, probably. But her dad was a beloved middle-school principal in Tarzana, California. Maybe that job satisfied some of his grandpaternal needs?

Leila decided she would wait ten more minutes and then go in search of someone, maybe Colonel Zeya himself. Though good luck finding that guy. He must have an office in every dingy little government building in Mandalay, and a henchman to keep people out of each one. This was the third time that Leila had been promised her shipment, a shipment that represented six months of work on her part. But this was the first time she had actually been brought to the airport. On the previous occasions, she had been summoned to the terrestrial passage entry station behind the clamorous bus depot, and those had turned out to be shakedowns—demands for the payment of newly discovered taxes and import duties. Most NGOs allowed for a certain amount of this. But Helping Hand was not playing along. New York said that to do so would “abet endemic corruption”—or perhaps this was just Boss 1 screwing with Boss 2—and at first refused to release the funds that might win Leila her shipment. Only by haranguing Boss 3 was Leila able to convince HQ that the extra money was in this case a cost of doing business.

Still; still. Leila had moved similar shipments hundreds of times. This was a container of palletized medical equipment—fourteen short tons—that she’d coaxed without incident from Miami to Doha to Yangon and then to Naypyidaw, the bizarre new capital that the generals had erected suddenly in the middle of the country. But then her shipment had been waylaid and effectively ransomed by an invisible mafia of Myanmarese customs officers who could be reached only by phone, and even then only via their underlings’ phones. Once Leila figured out which government building contained the Department of Leila Antagonism, she and her driver, Aung-Hla, took the half-day trip to Naypyidaw and attempted a frontal assault. But the stupidly hatted officials she located—though shocked that she’d found them—only asked her to return with obscurer forms and more exact change.

She worried that her shipment was getting picked through and pilfered from. It was high-end stuff. If the bozos at HQ had their way, the crates would probably be stamped EXPENSIVE and ALREADY LOST and SORRY ABOUT COLONIALISM. Worrying about it kept her up at night.

Though there were other things that kept her up at night also. The subtropical heat, the mouse-size cockroaches, the regretful thoughts about Rich. And how much regret are you allowed when you’re the one who did the dumping? And the loneliness. Sometimes—often—her day was a screen, a phone, a couple of merchants, and three meals by herself. That wore thin.

A man was coming toward her. One of Zeya’s underlings, but not the one who had deposited her in the infernal waiting room. She recognized this guy from an earlier fruitless wait; he’d brought her a Coke once. She did not stand up but tried to look unbothered as he approached.

“Follow me, please,” he said. It was five degrees cooler outside the little room, and that relief slipped down her collar and into the humid biome beneath her shirt. Leila could hardly wait. By the end of the day, she would have the crates de-palletized, inventoried, and stacked in the storeroom she’d rented beneath her office. She was having an effect; she was causing things to happen. Huzzah!

She tried to tamp down her excitement. Not until you see it. Not until you touch it. And was there something troubling in the way this lackey was walking through the little corridors of the big building? Some slump in his shoulders?

Shit. He didn’t want to get where they were going. He was actually slowing down.

And then her worry bloomed into certainty. Somehow she knew. That huzzah had been premature. Of course the colonel had screwed her again; of course her shipment had not arrived or would not be released. The hot wait was just a two-hour insult, and she was an idiot for sitting through it. What the fuck? She was trying to help this place, and she had a way to be of help.

They entered a room and passed a klatch of officers taking tea at a plastic table, and Leila could feel their eyes on her. At every door, there was a boy with a rifle, sweating under a helmet. The menace was present in everything here; it was like walking by a man holding a stick, the man silent, the stick raised above his head.

They arrived at the underling’s desk, and he indicated a chair where Leila should sit. She didn’t sit. “My boxes aren’t here, are they?” she asked the lackey in Burmese. She didn’t know the word for “shipment.”

He turned around, shook his head minutely, failed to meet her clamped gaze. Yeah, he hated this. “You will sign?” he said in English, pushing toward Leila a sheaf of papers. She’d seen those before. She’d signed them already.

She picked up the papers on the desk. Oh, fuck it. If they weren’t going to release her shipment this time, she was going to make trouble.

Leila leaned in to the man’s desk. She was too small to loom over anything, but she could lean in. In English, and too loudly, and in her best imitation of importance, she said, “I am an officer of an agency recognized by the UN”—a meaningless statement, but it had officer and agency and UN in it. “You cannot prevent me from taking custody of my shipment.” She actually stamped her foot.

The underling blanched and receded. At the far end of the room, the klatch quit stirring its tea.

Then Leila said very quietly, in Burmese, “I know this is not your fault. I will leave you. But tell me where Zeya is now. He is the one I need to speak to.”

Leila worked alone; she had to be both good cop and bad cop.

The man squinted at her. She often got that squint when she used Burmese; her accent was probably pretty bad. But then his eyes widened and softened, and she thought that he was going to take this deal.

In a quick and quiet utterance, in a mix of two languages, he said to Leila, “It is day three. He is with the bird people on day three.”

The Burmese numbered their days of the week. He meant Tuesday. But what the fuck were bird people?

Sticking to Burmese, Leila said, “How do I get my boxes? Why does Zeya make it so hard for me?”

And the underling, in English, and looking sorry to report it, said, “Lady, they do not want you here. Maybe, if you pay the taxes, and you do not bring in too much, you will get your boxes. But I think they do not want you here no way.”


Leila refused to return to the city with the Ministry Department driver who had brought her to the airport. She thought if she could make her way to the passenger terminal, she could find a taxi. That terminal was half a mile away; she’d noted the distance when they drove in. So she stomped out of the hangar and walked back the way she’d been driven. It was not a road for walkers; it was a dusty hummock with ditches on both sides, the ditches trickling with sewage and trash. Her shoes were all wrong now; they made her gait scuffly and her progress dusty. Still, she was free of all those clownish apparatchiks.

Well, not free, exactly; a teenage soldier in baggy pants and an M1 rifle followed fifty paces behind her. But sulkily; more kid brother than armed goon.

The paper-bag-armor blouse was brutal. She thought of unbuttoning, but then reconsidered. She was alone except for the boy soldier at her back. She’d gone this long without getting raped, and it was her daily, specific intention to keep it that way.

She looked back to check on the boy soldier, and her eye caught something behind him: a small plane was landing. But it was a snazzy white jet, Leila noticed, not a Burmese military aircraft or one of Air Mandalay’s goofy French turboprops. The jet came to rest in the middle of the tarmac. Then three big SUVs emerged from the hangar in which Leila had just wasted two hours; they zipped toward the jet in tight formation, like cockroaches racing across a kitchen floor. Two men—soldiers—got out of each vehicle, and each pair received a metal crate that was lowered by winch from the rear door of the jet. The crates went into the SUVs, two men lifting each crate. A set of stairs sprouted from the front of the aircraft, and three passengers—male, was about all Leila could determine—briskly descended and got in the back of the lead SUV. Then all the vehicles sped off, and before they’d even disappeared around the corner of a distant building, the little jet had turned its nose and was taxiing to a takeoff. The whole operation took less than three minutes—the most efficient maneuver Leila had ever seen in this country. Those crates were probably full of Johnnie Walker and porn on VHS, headed to a general top-heavy with medals. Meanwhile, her medical supplies were rotting in lockup. Leila was pierced by that mix of anger and sorrow that can make a person give up on a thing. What outright bullshit, she thought.

At the passenger terminal, Leila made directly for the taxi queue. But coming from the wrong direction, she snuck up on the taximen, who were lounging in the shade of the tall, mimosa-looking trees; they roused themselves to semi-alertness for her. How did they keep their shirts so white? she wondered. The men here wore brilliant shirts and long, faded sarongs—lungis, they were called in Burma, big-knotted in the front so that each man seemed to be wearing a sort of codpiece. She briefly hoped that Aung-Hla would be waiting with the other airport men. But, no, Leila didn’t know any of these guys.

It was from a similar shade-lounging posse that Leila had chosen Aung-Hla, months ago, when she’d started traveling out of Mandalay on Helping Hand business. For the first of their many trips together, he had kept some distance from her. He answered her questions briefly and mostly declined when she asked would he like a Coke or a sandwich when they stopped for food, preferring to spend his time checking the fluids under the hood of his white Toyota. Or he would wipe down the worn-soft vinyl upholstery and whisk-broom the carpets. She had never ridden in a car so well cared for. Aung-Hla’s car was similar to the one that Leila’s mom and dad had driven when she was a girl. But theirs had been beige and ragged and sticky with melted things. Was it a Tercel? In the back of Aung-Hla’s taxi, she was put in mind of her girlhood ride, the slope of the shoulders of the bucket seats ahead of her, the nearness of the central hump, the frequency of the vinyl piping, and that smell of—what? Tracked-in sand? Low-voltage electrical current? Thin carpet on hot metal?

After they’d taken about ten trips together, Aung-Hla opened up a bit. Nothing much, but he laughed at a joke she tried to make; he introduced her to another taximan he stopped to talk to; he pulled off the road to show her a magnificent view. Then Leila snapped a good photo of his taxi, shot in that three-quarter-angle way she knew was flattering to vehicles; she showed Aung-Hla the photo on her laptop screen, and he just about keeled over. He had no e-mail address to mail the photo to, so Leila printed him a copy from the color printer behind the desk at a hotel in Yangon. He rubber-banded the photo to the visor of the car that was its subject. Soon he was telling her names of things—of trees; of his three daughters, photos of whom were also rubber-banded to the visor; of the characters in the Theravada scenes painted thickly on the plaster facades of dinky roadside shrines.

Then he must have seen her face fall when, breaking a long drive to the northern city of Tamu in the kind of petrol-station-cum-lean-to café that art directors are always mocking up for jeans ads, Leila had once again tried to order the delicious chicken-broth-and-rice-starch-cube soup she could find easily in Mandalay and had once again received what appeared to be the culinary result of someone taking a phone book to a plucked chicken. She was so hungry that day that tears sprang to her eyes when a plastic bowl of oily chicken slurry was put before her. After that, Aung-Hla ordered for her, and he watched as the cook prepared her food. She could see him reject the contents of certain plastic vats and approve the use of others. It embarrassed her that she had caved on this. She knew that she should order her own food and place her own phone calls and generally navigate strange places without giving the men around her the satisfaction of seeing a woman ask for help. But Leila could also recognize when the solution to a problem required more skills or resources than she had. Like the chicken situation, for instance.

Soon, Aung-Hla was sitting with her at the same table beneath the thatch-and-canvas shade beside the sun-blanched road. She taught him a card game. He told her about Uposatha, a sort of Sabbath in Theravada Buddhism. He also turned out to have more English than he had let on: very spotty or halting grammar but a fair range of nouns. In fact, Aung-Hla was a quick study, like Leila, and she taught him how to form the future tense for the verb to go. He had several perfectly practiced idioms that he deployed slightly incongruously or that he overused. He said, “Hold, please,” and “Ready, set, go,” and “I won’t allow it.”

But Aung-Hla was not at the taxi queue, and Leila rode back to Mandalay with a driver she did not know, in silence. An accident on the so-called highway from the airport clogged what little traffic there was, and Leila averted her eyes when they finally passed the wailing and mangled mopedist whose day and probably whole life was going a lot worse than hers.

She tried to will herself into a better attitude. This was a setback, no more. She’d overcome worse. Part of her wanted to be all You have no idea who you’re fucking with. But she couldn’t summon enough of that moxie; they apparently knew exactly with whom they were fucking: a lone white girl whose organization lacked the pull, the will, or the cash to get fourteen short tons of medical equipment out of lockup. In fact, it was Leila who didn’t know who was fucking with her.

I think they do not want you here no way. The guy had looked scared when he’d said it. A pronoun without a referent. Always troubling. And if bird people were involved, things were way more complicated than she had figured. What could the man have meant?

She went back to her office—two rooms above a grocery store beside an important traffic circle on a wide, dirty avenue downtown. She changed out of her stupid shirt and shoes. She made motions at her desk like she was doing work. But it was an act, and soon she remembered that she was without an audience. So she left her office with her laptop in a plastic shopping bag and started walking toward her favorite tea shop. She would order mint tea and those digestive biscuits they had there called Number Nines. She liked the bustle of the street. If she was moving quickly, not speaking, and wearing something reasonable, Leila could blend in here. She could blend in in lots of places; one advantage to being Persian.

But blending in was a kind of hiding, right? She was too alone here, she thought. The aloneness had been the point when she accepted the job. A year in the hot far-away. After the Rich breakup, she wanted out of New York; she wanted to go back in the field. Leila had no social deficits; she existed in the happy and crowded range of the spectrum. The rules did not escape her, nor did ways to bend them. But she thought that maybe she didn’t like all that many people. How many people are you supposed to like? she wondered. Below what number are you attachment-disordered? She liked colleagues in a drinks-after-work kind of way. But in general, they were net-unhelpful during the workday, and often annoying, with their egg salad sandwiches and their bike helmets perched on their monitors.

But in this situation, Leila could have used some help. Besides Aung-Hla, her only friend here was Dah Alice, a precise-English-speaking, crane-like woman, the director of a local orphanage and charity. Dah Alice had been kind to Leila since her arrival and had seriously helped Leila with the find-nursing-students part of her assignment, by introducing her to faculty at the nursing school. But Leila was reluctant to admit to the older woman how much trouble she was having in her work; she didn’t want to be the clueless complainer.

Especially since Leila had discovered this about Dah Alice: Though the orphanage was her main thing, her charity had a wider social-services role—some public-health outreach, some adult-literacy programs. The more capable and effective she was, the more threatening the generals found her, so they kept their shifty eyes on her; she had to do her work and keep her head down. Asking Dah Alice for help with the denied shipment—that would be a bridge too far; it would put her on the spot. People living under tyranny ask fewer favors of one another.

Leila’s favorite tea shop was down a street that had no outlet and no Anglicization of its name on the metal enamel street sign affixed to the pocked pink two-story building on the corner. The Burmese script looked to Leila like a loopy cuneiform or like the schoolgirl doodles that once crowded the margins of her notebooks: it was a series of horseshoes and bubbly Es that apparently contained, for the twenty million readers of the language, useful information. If Leila couldn’t decipher a particular written Burmese word, she tried to notice and remember what the symbols looked like to her. A moon over three tennis balls, smiley face, backward E, fucked-up @ sign: that was the name of the street of her tea shop.

Even ten yards down this narrow street, the heat was cut by shade and leavened with streams of cooler air that trickled from low doorways. People wandered in and out of the buildings down the length of the street. A nonsense-named dead-end street in a second city in a kleptocratic East Asian punch line, thought Leila. But it’s busy!

A man in shades and a crisp white shirt had followed Leila a few steps down the street from the avenue—a too-eager money changer hoping she’d been inviting his trade, she thought. He saw that she was intent on something else, so he stopped at a T-shirt-and-teapot stall and heartily greeted the vendor.

Leaning on the wall or squatting on the sidewalk, men sold soap and batteries and barrettes that were spread on rugs more valuable than any of those things. An old woman folded lace on a stoop. An older woman was making and selling whisk brooms. A decidedly antique little man was polishing shoes, his hands black and nimble. Two monks mumbled at each other. Leila remembered not to smile too keenly, to just keep her face open and make soft eye contact with anyone who wished to do the same. A few did. She had been coming down this street twice a day for a couple of months now. The lace-folding lady gave her a little chin-raise, and a child in a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt beamed and waved.

In the tea shop, Leila sat with her back to the wall. It annoyed her when aid workers acted like Army Rangers, but one eight-month stint in Afghanistan had drilled a few cautious habits into her. The waiter, who may have had a little crush on Leila, raced over to take her order, though by now he probably could have guessed: mint tea and a plate of Number Nines.

What was that smell? Was it cumin? Burlap? Chinese dish soap? Whatever, it was delicious, and it soothed her. That’s what she’d miss when she left this place: the smells. Leila smelled whatever came near her; not just food, but book pages and faces and phones. Her sniffing technique was discreet but effective. Certainly she never had to pass anything under her nose, sommelier-like, as her little brother, Dylan, had to do to match her skills. That’s what the Majnoun kids did on slow Saturdays back in the day: they played smelling games. Roxana might hide a Starburst candy behind her toes and wave her foot in the air in front of her siblings, who then had to guess the flavor. Leila could tell you who had been sitting in the red corduroy chair an hour ago. Dylan did not dare steal Leila’s stuff because once she had claimed she could smell his hands on her library books. Bluffing or no, she’d been right.

Leila’s particular sensitivities seemed to cycle between the wafty, closer smells—mainly food and human—that draped over a moment, and the dusty, distant smells that could be carried by coat sleeve or breeze. In the former category was the knapsack that still smelled of curry, the hairbrush left too near the stove, and the human hangover behind the counter at Kinko’s. In the latter category was the subway-tunnel vent mixed with newspaper that had snaked around her corner in Bushwick, and the tang of handrails, and the seep of wet gravel, but it also included the thinner smells that came from paper and paint and industrially produced hard surfaces. This cycling was in some way related to her mood. Only very rarely did her nose prove too powerful. She was usually able to shut it down or tune out the worst, as when a pair of dirty underpants sat down next to her on a bus. So it annoyed her when pregnant women went on and on about their powers of smell, about how they just had to leave the room because someone was eating a banana or whatever.

Her tea arrived, the little cup and pot and plate of biscuits arranged just so on the dinged aluminum tray. Her waiter practically bowed as he retreated.


  • "Is it too late to nominate a candidate for novel of the summer? . . . A paranoid, sarcastic and clattering pop thriller . . . Mr. Shafer gets the playfulness-to-paranoia ratio about exactly right. . . . He's got a sick wit and a high style. Reading his prose is like popping a variant of the red pill in The Matrix: Everything gets a little crisper. . . . Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a page-turner, yet many more "literary" writers will, I suspect, envy Mr. Shafer's tactile prose. His eye is hawklike. . . . Mr. Shafer has written a bright, brash entertainment, one that errs, when it errs at all, on the side of generosity, narrative and otherwise. It tips you, geekily and humanely, through the looking glass."—Dwight Garner, New York Times
  • "Genius techno-­thriller à la Neal ­Stephenson, powered by social-media info-conspiracy à la Dave Eggers."—Lev Grossman, Time
  • "Zinging with wit and pop culture savvy . . . Shafer's writing is hip, wickedly hilarious, cutting edge, and ultimately concerned with old-fashioned notions of morality and redemption. . . His inventive, comic, dystopian semi-thriller restored my faith in fiction."—Mark Lindquist, Seattle Times
  • "Smart, funny . . . A techno-thriller with a soul . . . Shafer etches diamond-sharp and precisely observed contemporary satire."—Laura Miller, Salon
  • "A unique literary treat . . . As ambitious a fiction debut as you're ever likely to encounter . . . At turns the novel feels like a breakneck spy thriller, until, just around the next corner it morphs into a darkly comedic look at the realities of the human condition in our increasingly technology-fueled world."—Brooke Wylie, Examiner.com
  • "Shafer's savvy, sardonic take on our social media- and Big Data-worshiping society is as current as your Twitter feed..Just in time for your August beach trip, put Whiskey on your Amazon Wish List. As if they don't already know you want it."—Patty Rhule, USA Today
  • "Shafer hits all the right buttons in his debut as he mixes crime fiction, espionage, and SF in a darkly comic novel."—Publishers Weekly (starred)
  • "An edgy, darkly comedic novel whose characters and premise are as up-to-the-minute as an online news feed but as classic as the counterculture rebellions once evoked by Edward Abbey and Ken Kesey...Shafer's arch prose, comedic timing and deft feel for shadowy motives in high places are reminiscent of the late Richard Condon (The Manchurian Candidate), only with sweeter, sweeper characterizations...It's possible that Shafer is remaking the international thriller into something more humane and thus more credible."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Hilarious, moving, and wildly ambitious, David Shafer's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reads like a plot against America dreamed up by the NSA and then ghostwritten by Don DeLillo-a love story-cum-international thriller about our surveillance society that's so convincingly paranoid you'll tape over your webcam. Forget debut: it marks the arrival of a major new writer."—Adam Ross, author of Mr. Peanut
  • "Roaming from Burma to Oregon to a mysterious ship in the open ocean, David Shafer's debut novel is a stylish, absorbing, sharply modern hybrid of techno thriller and psychodrama that bristles with wit and intellect and offers a dark, incisive vision of the global consequences of turning our lives into collectable data. This book will stay with you long after you've finished it." Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me
  • "Outlandishly clever. Evoking the technological-paranoia of Philip K. Dick and the verbal pyrotechnics of David Foster Wallace, Shafer's digital take-over is absurdly comical and all too familiar. The characters are complicated, fascinating, and fully engaging while the threats feel frighteningly real."—Joe Meno, author of The Great Perhaps
  • "David Shafer's amazing debut novel should be a controlled substance, its addictive quotient of the highest order. I devoured it imagining this is what a brainstorming event between Thomas Pynchon and Edward Snowden would deliver."—Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
  • "Hilarious and chilling, fast-paced and thoughtful, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is literary entertainment of the highest order. While the novel reads like a comic thriller, it speaks powerfully to our over-connected, over-watched, privacy-depleted moment. I admire the hell out of it."—Ken Kalfus, National Book Award nominated author of Equilateral
  • "A Graham Greene novel written by Edward Snowden. The Anonymous novel I have been waiting for -- a stiletto thriller of the too-real panopticon digitizing our every breath nowadays."—Tom Paine, author of Scar Vegas

On Sale
May 26, 2015
Page Count
448 pages
Mulholland Books

David Shafer

About the Author

David Shafer is a graduate of Harvard and the Columbia Journalism School. He has lived in Argentina and Dublin, and has been a journalist, sometimes a carpenter, once a taxi driver and briefly a flack for an NGO. He now lives in Portland with his wife, daughter, and son.

Learn more about this author