Matthew Palmer is a twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade from 2011-2014. Last year, he became the Director for Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. The American Mission is his first novel. It is a thriller set in the Democratic Republic of Congo featuring American diplomat Alex Baines as the protagonist. The American Mission is the first in a series of novels focused on American diplomacy that will be published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House. This is first-rate, can’t put down fiction. Bought the book one day, and gobbled it up to the end in two days! The excerpt below selected by Putnam is the only section of the book that’s set in the consular section. The rest of the story is about Africa, minerals and exploitation by big corporations (there goes your economic statecraft). Oh, there is an ambassador, corrupted, and an OGA guy with tricks, and a love interest. All for a fictional run that would make into a fantastic movie. Read the Goodreads review here, from Kirkus here, from Rhapsody in Books here and the rest of media reviews here. Thanks to Matt, and Ashley (Putnam) for allowing us to share this excerpt with our readers!
Reprinted from The American Mission by Matthew Palmer by arrangement with G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Palmer.
JUNE 12, 2009
Check this one out. Twenty—two years old. Absolutely stunning. Says she wants to go to Disney World, but she has a one—way ticket to New York. Why do they always say that they’re going to Disney World? You’d think they’d just won the Super Bowl or something.”
Hamilton Scott, Alex’s partner on the visa line at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, leaned around the narrow partition that separated their interview booths, dangling an application for a tourist visa. The woman in the visa photo clipped to the upper corner bore a striking resemblance to the supermodel Naomi Campbell.
It was admittedly unprofessional, but Alex understood what Ham was doing. Visa—line work could be excruciatingly monotonous, and in a third—world hellhole like Conakry, the applicants would say or do just about anything to gain entrance to the United States. The vice consuls often resorted to black humor or informal games like Visa Applicant Bingo as a way to keep themselves sane.
“Do you think she’d sleep with me for a visa?” Ham asked with mock seriousness.
“Twenty—two? Isn’t she a little old for you, Ham?”
“Ordinarily, yes. But this girl’s exceptional. And there’s no way she qualifies as a tourist.”
“Qualify” was a kind of code word in visa work. The law said that anyone applying for a visa to the United States had to prove that he or she was not secretly intending to emigrate. The challenge for the applicants was demonstrating that they had strong and compelling reasons to come back after visiting the U.S. In practice, this meant money. Rich people were “qualified” for visas. Poor people struggled to overcome the supposition that they were economic migrants. In the euphemistic language of government, they were “unqualified.”
Ham turned back to the applicant and explained to Ms. Hadja Malabo that, sadly, she lacked the qualifications for an American visa and should consider reapplying when her “situation” had changed. Ham’s French was ﬂawless, a consequence of four years at a boarding school in Switzerland. He was polite but, Alex thought, somewhat brusque in rejecting Ms. Malabo’s application.
Ham leaned back around the partition.
“I’m almost through my stack, only four or five left. How you doing?”
Alex looked at the pile of application packages still in front of him. There were at least twenty left. He and Ham were the only two interviewing officers at post, which meant about fifty nonimmigrant visa interviews a day for each of them. Ham made his decisions with a brutal efficiency. Alex took more time with each applicant. Most would come away empty—handed, but he wanted to give each person who came into his interview booth the sense that they had had a chance to make their case and that the consul had at least given them a fair shot. For most Guineans, their brief moment with a consular officer was as close as they were going to get to the United States.
“I still have a few to go,” Alex admitted.
“Give me some of yours.” Ham reached over and took nearly half of the stack out of Alex’s in—box. “If we can finish in less than an hour, we can grab a sandwich and a beer at Harry’s bar. My treat. Gotta meet with the Ambassador after lunch to talk over the report on human trafficking I did for him last week.” Ham paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Alex,” he said carefully. “You know I don’t mean to rub that in.”