A government stooge finds himself at the center of some Afghanistan-based intrigue in Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device.

Up until a year ago, Jim Schneider had a wife and two small children. Now they are dead thanks to a medical device that his employer—the Food and Drug Administration—failed to properly vet before it went on the market. Jim is wracked by grief, and though he hasn’t quit his job, he has basically stopped doing any work.

Rather than firing him, his bosses have just offered him a job at the FDA’s new international branch, located—for reasons he doesn’t quite understand—in Afghanistan. As soon as Jim lands in the country, he knows he’s in over his head. He can’t deal with the heat, the altitude, or the constant danger of improvised explosive devices—to say nothing of the fact that everyone he meets seems to be holding a gun. His job, as best he can figure it out, has something to do with the pharmaceutical potential of rare earth minerals recently discovered in the country, the kind that could make a lot of rich people even richer.

Jim soon realizes he’s walked into a game much bigger than he’s qualified to play, one involving espionage, terrorism, and secrets that go all the way to the top of the American government. Pomerantz’s prose is tight and often funny, capturing Jim’s experiences as a perpetual fish out of water. Here, Jim describes meeting a United States senator with some business interest in Afghanistan’s minerals: “Senator Tom Fletch Senior was a man who, if he smiled, when he smiled, if he did that, and all his teeth were filed into sharp points, and then after he smiled, he shook your hand, and after he shook your hand, he put your hand into his mouth and bit the whole thing off, I would have said, later on, makes sense.”

Some of the motifs feel slightly George W. Bush–era, but the author’s sharp eye for details—both in terms of place and character—makes for an immersive reading experience. Inside the absurdities of empire, Pomerantz finds a beating human heart.

A twisty and engaging political thriller with an unlikely operative at its center.

Kirkus Reviews

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