Death and Taxes: Tales of a Badass IRS Agent
Aperient Press, 2018
“My name’s Mark Douglas, and I work for the IRS. Welcome to my world.”
The notion of a ‘badass IRS agent’ is more than a bit ridiculous when you say it aloud. Yet, ridiculous is often the bedrock trope for political thrillers. Just as in film, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. For readers of thrillers this is an easy thing to do because it usually guarantees an adventure story. In the case of Mark Zaslove’s Death and Taxes, readers follow Mark Douglas, an ex-Marine turned IRS agent, as he reclaims back taxes through rather unorthodox and violent means. Eventually, Douglas finds himself tracking more nefarious criminals such as an eunuch hit man and the Mongolian mob smuggling weapons-grade plutonium into the United States. It is, quite simply, a ridiculous premise executed with aplomb providing readers with some compelling entertainment. We shouldn’t expect less from Zaslove given his experience creating film and television.
Death and Taxes reads fast mirroring the action of its plot. Almost immediately we learn what kind of guy Douglas is and what kind of story Zaslove is crafting:
“I’m kind of a glorified accountant. Glorified means that after a long week of auditing tax returns earmarked for criminal prosecution and carpel-tunneling my hands-on government-issued keyboards left over from the 1990s, I get to go out into the field with my bang-squad buddies and–without a gun–physically do unto others what they think we’re doing unto them already with the income tax. We’re the United States government’s own repo men.”
“Bang squad.” It is an odd thing to write a character that is pro-government in the tone of the kind of anti-government folk who think the United Nations will one day invade. Yet caricature is a key component to any thriller. Also, given the general libertarian mood of the nation, Zaslove’s novel seems to fill a very odd but very real niche growing larger every day.
There is a fascinating hypermasculinity displayed through the protagonist as well as an us-versus-them mentality. Even though Douglas sits firmly as key ‘Fed,’ he has nothing but snark and contempt for government. This makes sense as Douglas and his ‘Bang Squad’ need to be seen as rebels, bad boys, loose cannons…take your pick of cliche…in order to make the central motivation of the novel work. That motivation is loyalty framed in terms of revenge and rescue which just happens to be for god and country too. It’s a tightrope Zaslove is always dangerously close to falling from. It also the kind of thing that makes reading exciting and quick, which is Zaslove’s gift.
Death and Taxes is a novel of all rise; it burns bright, hot, and fast. The entire tone of the book feels over the top, nearly comical. Depending on the temperament of readers, Douglas’s twisting adventures will either come across as epic action adventure in the mold of Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay blockbusters or a sly send up of genre literature:
“Desmond eyed me, studying my face in a disengaged way, similar to a housewife sizing up how many chicken breasts to buy at the market. I could imagine him calculating odds and prison-sentence numbers, while at the same time looking to gain an advantage. I hoped he wasn’t going to sniff me for freshness.”
There’s no reason it can’t be both. Just as there’s no reason a short novel can’t be rowdy fun. Part of me very much enjoys the way Zaslove translates his ‘heroes’ into a kind of neo-noir steeped in MacGuffins and banter. It takes a certain kind of reader to take to this story but that reader certainly well embrace it.
As a potential first installment of a new story about a new kind of hero, Death and Taxes is promising. Douglas and his Bang Squad will appeal to lovers of Clancy as well as those with a fetish for gumshoes. There’s always room for a fresh political thriller or mystery series, Zaslove has written one many readers will find raucous and compelling.
About the Author
Mark Zaslove, author of Death and Taxes, is a writer/director/producer of both live-action and animated movies and television. He creates content for all major studios, including Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing/producing, and a recipient of the Humanities Prize (for writing about uplifting human values in television and movies), he also writes short fiction and has served as a senior editor on various magazines. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, he lives with his teenage son in Los Angeles.