Alexander C. Irvine’s Buyout is, for lack of a better way of putting it, an existentialist near-future thriller. It’s about what happens when small people get caught up in big ideas, and what happens to them when the people behind those ideas reveal their true motivations. In short, there’s a lot of old-fashioned noir material here, dusted off and recreated for the mid-twenty-first century – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Buyout concerns itself largely with the travails of one Martin Kindred. The washout from a family of cops, he’s a middle manager with a failing marriage, two kids, and a finely honed ability to talk himself into doing really stupid things for what he thinks are good reasons. As we meet him, Martin is in the process of signing on for a new job. It’s one that will make him rich. It will also make him a lightning rod for controversy. Because it’s now Martin’s job to sell prison lifers a quick trip to the needle in exchange for a massive payout to the heirs of their choice.
To say Martin wrestles with the morality of his labor is an overstatement; he and morality play pattycake, at best, and Martin becomes the face of the buyout program. The benefits are financial, immediate and tangible; the costs include his rapidly dissolving marriage, his privacy, the respect of his private eye buddy Charlie, and eventually, the life of his brother, a cop gunned down in the line of duty. And as the tiny compromises Martin makes in pursuit of buyouts start adding up, he finds himself enmeshed deeper and deeper in the conspiracy that took his brother’s life, and may well end up taking his own.
Each chapter begins with a rant from an underground DJ figure. In theory, this figure only tangentially crosses the paths of Martin and Charlie. His real role, though, is to serve as the book’s chorus and conscience. It’s his voice that foreshadows the coming action and raises the questions the reader might not think to, in between bitching about the Dodgers and getting old.
To be fair, there are weaknesses to the book. The interminable, agonizing disintegration of Martin’s marriage is largely portrayed as a series of on-the-nose explications, and it’s pretty much the only context in which we see the figure of the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Kindred. As for the Los Angeles of 2041, it’s remarkably similar to the L.A. of today, with a few added gadgets and what appears to be better traffic patterns. That’s not the point, though. What matters in Buyout is the increasingly frantic collision of morals and beliefs into one another, until a crescendo of an ending simultaneously denigrates and exalts the notion of an absolute credo.
Ultimately, though, Buyout is an engaging and enjoyable read. Irvine successfully pulls a bait and switch on his readers, drawing them in with the notion of the buyout before revealing he’s got something bigger on his plate. As for Martin, he’s a well-meaning nebbish, engaging enough that you get angry with him for his self-delusion but sympathetic enough that you hate to see the consequences of same. And no, you won’t regret having spent time with him.